No. 3: Retaining WR Richie James
The San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver battle was one of the team’s top storylines from the end of 2019 NFL Draft until the minutes leading up to Saturday roster cuts. Although Lynch and Shanahan may have chosen the wrong receiver to release this weekend, at least it wasn’t preseason standout Richie James.
Veteran Jordan Matthews was the wide receiver who unfortunately got axed on Saturday, but James’ roster spot always seems to be in question, no matter how well the former seventh-round draft pick performs. However, the fact that James not only outplayed all of the 49ers’ wideouts over the course of the preseason, but was also named the NFL’s top preseason wide receiver by Pro Football Focus (PFF) didn’t hurt the receiver’s cause:
As PFF noted in their 2019 NFL All Preseason Team article, over half of James’ preseason receiving yardage came after the catch, as the second-year wide receiver averaged one missed tackle on each of his 12 receptions, which resulted in six first downs. James was also the recipient of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s best pass of the preseason: a 33-yard reception on a crucial third down the 49ers’ starting QB desperately needed to convert.
Starting slot receiver and punt returner Trent Taylor‘s recent foot surgery, which will keep the third-year receiver out of action for the first few regular season games, should provide James with added playing time to start the year. Expect James to act as San Francisco’s primary return-man on both kickoffs and punts, in addition to his work on offense as a rotational receiver on the outside on early downs, and in the slot when the team is in 11 personnel.