49ers roster: 5 sleepers to watch as breakout stars in 2021

Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Richie James, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Richie James (13) Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers Sleeper No. 2: Wide Receiver Richie James

There are a number of enigmas on the Niners roster, and wide receiver Richie James certainly is one of them.

On one hand, when given the offensive chances, James has often met the challenge. In 2019, despite seeing only 19 percent of the offense’s snaps, he managed an impressive 27.5 yards per catch on six receptions. Then in Week 9 last year when San Francisco was dealing with a massive shortage of wideouts, James had a career-best nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown despite being fully inactive the week before.

Despite this, head coach Kyle Shanahan has been reluctant to play James more ever since the former Middle Tennessee State was drafted in Round 7 back in 2018. True, James has had his opportunities as a returner on special teams, but the offensive snaps have been few and far between.

The loss of wide receiver Kendrick Bourne in free agency opens up an opportunity for James to see more time as a slot option. The 49ers are by no means satisfied with their wide receiver depth, and their actions in the 2021 NFL Draft surely will open up even more competition for James during training camp.

That said, if James is given more chances, the previous results show he can frequently do well with them.

Maybe that’ll be enough to see whether or not James should see the field enough to break out in a way he hasn’t had the opportunity to do so before.