Over a year removed from his last snap with the San Francisco 49ers, Richie James is getting ready to mount his NFL comeback with the New York Giants.
San Francisco fans know the wideout well. After being drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft, James spent three seasons with the 49ers as a returner and wide receiver. While he was never a household name or a focal point of the team, his role was important on both special teams and on offense.
However, an unfortunate knee injury before the 2021 season led to the 49ers needing to waive the former Middle Tennessee State standout. He didn’t play a single regular-season snap as he recovered, but he’s now getting his chance to start fresh in New York.
“The #Giants agreed to terms with former #49ers WR/returner Richie James Jr. on a one-year deal, source says,” NFL media insider Mike Garafolo Tweeted on March 25. “Former seventh-round pick missed last season with a knee injury after grabbing a career-high 23 catches in 2020.”
James’ issue in San Francisco was never work ethic or even ability, who utilized his tackle-breaking ability to become a secondary, but useful weapon for head coach Kyle Shanahan and his offense.
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Before Giants, James Makes a Splash with 49ers
Seventh-round picks are never locks to make a roster, but in 2018, the 49ers were in an interesting spot. Tight end George Kittle and wide receivers Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon were the expected starters that year, and the team was still in its last year of building before the 2019 Super Bowl run.
James was able to earn his spot on the roster, and slowly made the most of his initial opportunities as Pro Football Reference shows. A two-catch, 60-yard performance against the Oakland Raiders first caught the eye, but it was his returns against the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 that showed he is a weapon on multiple sides of the ball.
After a 42-yard return against Seattle in Week 13, James one-upped his performance with a 97-yard touchdown return in Week 15. The 49ers went on to win 26-23, so his touchdown in the first quarter ended up being a deciding factor.
He didn’t take another return to the house while in San Francisco, but nearly did a couple times in 2019. 2020 was notable for a different reason, as James was called to start seven times as a receiver and set career highs in receiving yards and catches.
After 15 receptions and 295 yards over 2018 and 2019, James brought down 23 receptions for 394 receiving yards in 2020. It was an off year as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and receiver Deebo Samuel missed time due to injuries, but James showed that he’s worthy of a secondary receiving role in an NFL offense.
Extent of James’ Injury
When James’ knee injury initially occurred before the 2021 season began, Shanahan revealed that James needed surgery and would be out at least six weeks. Obviously, he was never able to return to the field for the 49ers.
That being said, the extent and details of James’ knee injury were never fully disclosed by San Francisco. So, his readiness on the Giants remains to be seen, but considering his initial recovery time ended in October of 2021 and New York was willing to sign him, it seems as if he’s fully ready.
In terms of a reunion with San Francisco, James would need the Giants and 49ers to meet in the playoffs. While San Francisco does welcome the Giants’ NFC East rivals, the Washington Commanders, for a home game, the 49ers don’t face New York in a regular-season game in 2022.