The SF 49ers must give Richie James, not Trent Taylor more playing time for the rest of 2020.
It’s anyone’s wild guess why SF 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has held back from using third-year pro wide receiver Richie James until he absolutely had to — a Week 9 Thursday Night Football bout against the Green Bay Packers when Shanahan’s receiver corps was awfully shorthanded.
Yet James delivered in the loss, hauling in a career-best nine catches for 184 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
And James needs to see more of the field moving forward.
Particularly when looking at some of the depth-chart battles behind San Francisco’s top-two wideouts, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, which could be pivotal in determining the team’s pecking order at the position in 2021.
One of those jockeying for field time over the SF 49ers’ final seven games of the season is fourth-year slot wide receiver Trent Taylor, who has gone from an up-and-coming promising find in 2017 to a relatively lackluster depth option at best. True, Taylor was supposed to be a go-to target for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this year. Both players were fully healthy during training camp, and it wasn’t hard to be hyped over Taylor and Jimmy G rediscovering that chemistry the two had their first season together.
Only it never materialized before Garoppolo landed on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain.
To date, Taylor has 10 receptions for 86 yards and no scores. Those lowly numbers, paired with his injury history from 2018 and 2019, paint a bleak picture for his future.
As well as a bigger opportunity for James.
James has far more explosiveness to his game, too. Comparing the two, James ran a 4.43 40-yard time during his 2018 NFL Scouting Combine workouts, whereas Taylor was a slowish 4.63 time the year before. At the pro level, James’ career yards-per-reception average is an even 20 yards.
Taylor, meanwhile, is at 9.3.
SF 49ers can think long term with Richie James, not Trent Taylor
Taylor is a free agent in 2021. James is under contract through next season at a modest max cap hit of $939,143.
It seems awfully evident the Niners won’t have reason or room to retain Taylor on their roster next season, making him something of a lame-duck commodity on their depth chart between now and through Week 17. Plus, with the seemingly gone rapport between Taylor and Garoppolo not likely to resurrect itself this year, it would be much smarter for Shanahan to give as many nods to James from this point onward.
The 5-foot-9 slot receiver might have an opportunity soon, too.
No. 3 wide receiver Kendrick Bourne recently landed back on the reserve/COVID-19 list again, at best making a starting trio of James, Aiyuk and hopefully Samuel (hamstring) the group Shanahan will field in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints.
All three players have speed, at least adding a wrinkle San Francisco hasn’t been able to regularly feature at length over the course of 2020.
James’ ability to create chunk plays is just one reason why he should see more field time, both in Week 10 and beyond. Him being able to contribute when called upon has already been displayed.
And him being a potential part of the solution for 2021 makes James a commodity worth exploring more over the rest of the season.