Richie James’ rookie season started slowly.
The seventh-round draft pick from Middle Tennessee State was just a spare part in the 49ers’ passing game, buried on the depth chart.
But as the 2018 season progressed, the opportunities for the wide receiver increased — and so did his productivity.
Now, going into the offseason, it seems likely that James could become an even bigger part of the team’s offense in 2019.
Though James had only one pass thrown to him over the season’s first six games, James finished with nine catches for 130 yards, a 14.4-yard average and a touchdown. But it was as a return specialist — especially on kickoffs —that he thrived.
He returned 23 kickoffs for 580 yards (a 25.2 average) and a TD, a 97-yard play in a win over the Seahawks in December. It was the 49ers’ first TD on a kickoff return since Ted Ginn did it in 2011. On punt returns, James averaged 6.3 yards on 12 plays, with a long of 23 yards.
James, who stands just 5-foot-9, is quick and elusive. With the experience he gained as a receiver in 2018, James could break out as a slot receiver this coming season. When the ball has been thrown his direction, he’s made plays.
During the exhibition season, the rookie led all 49ers receivers with 15 catches and 192 yards.
Said Shanahan of James: “What we love about Richie is that I think you guys can all see, he’s fearless with the ball in his hands.”