Richie James, Jr.
For Richie James, Jr., the former seventh-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State, the main thing he has going for him is that he’s been the 49ers exclusive punt returner this season. He’s done that job admirably (so far 13 returns for 157 yards, a 12.1 average), and it’s unthinkable Sanders would challenge for that role.
Outside of that job, however, James’ role has been spotty at best. He’s only been targeted nine times, catching five of those balls for 108 yards (21.6 YPC), admittedly an excellent output given his chances. James also scored one touchdown in Week 1 in Tampa against the Buccaneers, doubling his career receiving touchdown total.
James only has 127 offensive snaps, although he is the most balanced of the wideouts in terms of where he lines up in the formation (57 in the slot, 61 out wide, nine in the backfield), and the majority of his wide snaps — 28 to be exact — game last week in Washington.
The health of Trent Taylor is likely a bigger threat to James’ playing time, and possibly his roster spot, than Sanders is. As long as James is on the team, he is likely to remain the punt returner and a good option elsewhere on special teams, again something Sanders isn’t offering at this point in his career.
Sure, he might see his snaps reduced (the aforementioned trickle down effect), but his role as a change-of-pace slot receiver should still be relatively set.