Why 49ers Richie James is in danger of being cut after 2020 NFL Draft

Richie James #13 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Richie James #13 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers added two wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings, which puts Richie James’ spot on the roster in peril.

It seems like every time San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Richie James gets the ball in his hands, a big play happens.

After all, James’ 27.5 yards-per-reception average in 2019 would have ranked second best among all pass catchers with at least five receptions a year ago.

But therein lies the problem: James has been scantly used on offense.

Last year, he was targeted a mere 10 times, hauling in six of those passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Even though the Niners were dealing with significant wide receiver production over the first half of the year, James was mostly a non-factor except for the times he touched the ball.

Why James isn’t used more aside from his role on special teams is a good question, perhaps something to be discussed again at another time.

Yet James could face some serious challenges in his third year at the pro level, particularly after San Francisco’s actions during the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Niners brought aboard two rookie wideouts via the draft, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk in Round 1 and Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings to close out the class in Round 7. True, Jennings poses no threat to James as a speed guy, but roster spots are what count in this particular breakdown.

Aiyuk, a first-round pick, is a shoo-in to make the 53-man roster barring injury. He’ll be given every chance to compete for a starting role alongside returning veterans, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. That’s three wideouts right there, and teams rarely keep more than six wide receivers on a team.

If Jennings, a tough and physical yards-after-the-catch specialist, makes San Francisco’s roster, there are only two more spots left.

While there are plenty of question marks at the position, the Niners still have a deep wide receiver corps, if in name only. Second-year pro Jalen Hurd, who redshirted his rookie campaign with a season-long back injury, could take a roster spot as a wide receiver, tight end or all-offensive weapon. Perhaps that opens up chances for James a bit more.

Yet fellow wideouts Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Travis Benjamin and still others are going to challenge James for a spot.

Even if James is one of the two remaining players selected, that’ll ultimately translate into some tough cuts or moves elsewhere.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact Aiyuk was a prolific return specialist in college, either. He managed 31.9 kick-return yards on average a year ago, while posting a solid 16.1 yards per punt return with a touchdown for the Sun Devils. Given he’s a first-round pick, the Niners may not want to feature him on special teams a lot as his career develops. But it does add a potential wrinkle to James’ current role on the roster.

Next. 49ers too-soon 2020 win-loss predictions. dark

Again, it’s a bit of an oddity James hasn’t been featured more on offense. Perhaps there are unknown reasons behind this, yet that aspect and the Niners’ moves in the NFL Draft ultimately mean James is back on the roster bubble heading into 2020.