At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Richie James is on the small side for an NFL wide receiver.
But James, from Middle Tennessee State, produced in a big way in college and caught the eye of the 49ers, who used their final pick in the just-completed NFL draft to get James.
James ranks No. 1 in Middle Tennessee State history in catches (244), receiving yards (3,261) and TD catches (23). His final season was shortened because of a broken collarbone in 2017, but he still had 31 catches.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote that although James’ size would indicate he might be best as a slot receiver, he’ll start out at one of the wideout positions, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
At the time of his selection by the Niners, James received a vote of approval from longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
“Wide receiver who made big plays in that Blue Raider offense,” said Kiper on TV. “He can catch the ball and then take that big hit. Has some quickness, has some ability to gain some separation and then on the sidelines, be able to get the foot inbounds. For Richie James, a great opportunity to make a team in the NFL.”
Former Middle Tennessee State safety Kevin Byard, now a Pro Bowl safety with the Tennessee Titans after being drafted in 2016, tweeted Saturday that James is “one of the best receivers in college football hands down!”
Wide receiver was a position the 49ers hoped to upgrade in the draft, but it’s now becoming crowded. Competition should be fierce this summer to make the opening-day roster, with the addition of James, second-round pick Dante Pettis of Washington, who is scheduled to work out of the slot, and undrafted free agent Steven Dunbar from the University of Houston. Dunbar, a big target at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, was signed this past weekend following the completion of the draft. Dunbar had 76 catches in 2017 for 1,070 yards.
The newcomers will compete with holdover projected starters Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon and Trent Taylor, along with Kendrick Bourne, Aldrick Robinson, Aaron Burbridge, Victor Bolden Jr. and Max McCaffrey.