Wide receiver Richie James appears destined to make the 49ers roster.
The seventh-round draft pick out of Middle Tennessee State has had a fine training camp, shining in practices day after day. And, in his first exhibition action last week against Dallas, he had four catches for 46 yards, including a 7-yard reception for a touchdown with just 18 seconds left that gave San Francisco a 24-21 victory.
If James continues to excel, he’s likely to be the sixth wide receiver on the roster for opening day behind Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, fellow rookie Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. So far, James has outplayed Victor Bolden Jr. Aaron Burbridge, Max McCaffrey and Aldrick Robinson in the duel for the sixth roster spot (if San Francisco carries six wideouts as it did in 2017).
The fact James also is a fine kick returner also plays in his favor.
“What we love about Richie is that I think you guys can all see he’s fearless with the ball in his hands,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan says James gets yards after he pulls the ball in and finds holes as a returner.
James, however, is focused on what’s next, not on what he’s done so far. When Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle this week asked him what it was like to make the game-winning catch in his first pro game, James told him: “That’s football, baby. Play ball. Next game.”
James is small (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) but incredibly quick. Yet he’s not afraid of going across the middle, as he did at the end of the Dallas game for the winning catch. Plus, Shanahan has a history of fondness for smallish, quick receivers who can get open and separate from defenders once they make a catch. Receivers don’t have to be tall to catch his eye.
Niners’ vice president of player personnel Adam Peters told Branch he loved what he saw of James on tape last season, even against elite competition.
“He’s a baller, man,” said Peters. “He’s just a football player that makes big plays and he’s fearless. And he did it against some of the best competition – big games against SEC teams. So yeah, to get a guy like that in the seventh round, you’re excited.”
James and his teammates will get their next opportunity to impress this Saturday in an exhibition game against the Texans in Houston. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.