Speedy Wideout Named Favorite to be Giants’ Return Specialist in 2022

Richie James

Getty New York Giants wide receiver Richie James will likely handle return duties this season.

When it comes to kick and punt return duties, one New York Giants playmaker stands out among the alluring options.

That player is wide receiver Richie James, who the Giants signed in free agency this spring. In a recent training camp report, Dan Duggan of The Athletic named James as the favorite to serve as New York’s top return specialist this season.

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“Don’t expect [Kadarius] Toney to return kicks,” Duggan reported for The Athletic. “Toney and [Kenny] Golladay work with wide receivers coach Mike Groh while the rest of the roster participates in special teams periods. Wide receiver Richie James is the early favorite to be the punt returner. James or wide receiver C.J. Board will likely be the kickoff returner.”

While Toney certainly has the athleticism to be a return specialist, he only had one punt return (zero yards) and no kick returns as a rookie. Considering his injury history, the Giants are likely prioritizing his health over his potential impact as a returner.

James, on the other hand, has plenty of experience returning kicks and punts from his time with the San Francisco 49ers. He has career averages of 7.3 yards per punt return and 23.0 yards per kick return.

As a rookie in 2018, James scored a touchdown on a 97-yard kick return against the Seattle Seahawks.

49ers WR Richie James BLASTS OFF for Kick Return TD!Richie James makes Seattle's special teams pay on this huge kick return touchdown. The Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers during Week 15 of the 2018 NFL season. Subscribe to NFL: j.mp/1L0bVBu Check out our other channels: NFL Vault youtube.com/nflvault NFL Network youtube.com/nflnetwork NFL Films youtube.com/nflfilms NFL Rush youtube.com/nflrush #NFL #Seahawks #49ers2018-12-16T21:33:27Z

After running a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, James went to the 49ers in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. After four years in San Francisco, he signed with the Giants on a one-year deal worth $1,065,000 earlier this offseason.

Richie James Also Has Underrated Receiving Potential

Richie James may handle kick and punt return duties for the Giants, but he is not just a return specialist. He could also be a decent pass-catcher in 2022.

During the first week of training camp, James dusted slot cornerback Darnay Holmes on a very clean inside-breaking route.

Via Madelyn Burke on Twitter:

Quarterback Daniel Jones will need some deep threats this season, and James has a career average of 18.1 yards per reception. That’s nearly two yards deeper than Golladay’s career average (16.3 yards/rec.), more than three yards deeper than Darius Slayton’s career average (14.8 yards/rec.) and a full seven yards deeper than Sterling Shepard’s career average (11.1 yards/rec.).

Here’s a clip of Jones and James connecting for a touchdown at training camp, followed by a celebratory backflip:

Giants fans hope to see that celebration a few times during the regular season.

Does This Mean Darius Slayton is Out?

The logjam at wide receiver for the Giants has been well-documented this summer, and fourth-year pro Darius Slayton has often been identified as the odd man out.

The Giants will likely keep six wide receivers. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson are virtual locks to make the final roster. That leaves Richie James, C.J. Board and Darius Slayton (and maybe David Sills) fighting for only two roster spots.

Since James and Board offer more potential on special teams, Slayton is behind the eight ball in this competition. If the Giants cannot swing a trade, they may be forced to release a player who has led the team in receiving yards two of the past three seasons.

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