It brings out the usual way of distractions. What happened in Ritchie James on the night of November 5, 2020, when the 49ers’ third-year wide receiver broke out for nine catches for 184 yards and one touchdown in a Packers loss?
Prior to that, James had 15 NFL receptions.
It’s not something that just happened, it just came out of nowhere,” James said after training at the Giants training camp recently. “I look at that game as something I showed I could do. I can get 100 matches if you throw the ball at me a few times.”
James was targeted 13 times by quarterback Nick Mullins in his surprise showing – and pressed for playing time with George Keitel, Debo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Ayok.
As it turns out, this performance wasn’t a breakthrough at all. James only had 14 more passes in the rest of that season, then missed the whole of 2021 after knee surgery. His time in the Bay Area ended, and in late March he signed a one-year deal with the Giants, one of the early moves for new General Manager Joe Shuen.
At least, James is in the mix as a kick-off and a gamble header. This may be short to change. James, in the spring and so far this summer, has been one of the camp’s most productive receivers – his 5-foot-9 and 185-pound body rumbles in and out, wearing the number 80 jersey number worn by Victor Cruz creating many iconic movie moments . There should be an expectation that the roster turnover will be extensive in the first year of Schoen and head coach Brian Dabol. New in, new James.
“I think I’m a weapon anywhere,” he said. “That’s how I feel. Give me the ball in my hand and I’ll show you what I can do. Be it [yards after catch] Or catching or handing the ball, I feel like I can do anything. ”
James did it all in Middle Tennessee, in the first two seasons having 212 passes for 2,959 yards and 20 touchdowns. He never gained a foothold in attack with 49 players, but he proved to be a menace with the ball in his hands, averaging 18.1 yards in 38 receptions. He also had a 97-yard kick-back for touchdown as a starter and an 81-yard kickback in 2019.
Is there a place for him with the giants? The top three receivers were named with Kenny Goladay, Toni Cadarius and rookie Andel Robinson receiving nearly all first-team representatives. Veteran Sterling Shepherd, who is discharged from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, is expected to start the season on a list of physically unable to perform. There is competition from returnees from CJboard, Colin Johnson, David Sales, and newcomer Robert Foster. It could come down to whether Daboll and his crew prefer James, 26, or Darius Slayton, 24, entering his fourth season and preparing to play in the final year of his contract.
From a financial standpoint, the new front office system will have to see more of Slayton to justify his nearly $2.6 million salary cap for 2022. James’ income is $1 million against the cap. For a team under $5 million under the cap, saving over $1.5 million by going with James over Slayton is no small feat.
This summer Slayton made plays but they were inconsistent, a trait that developed after his stellar rookie year. James was the most impressive receiver in the early stages of camp.
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“I definitely had some drips in there, I had some moments I didn’t like but I had some moments I loved,” Slayton said. “As a receiver, you cannot dwell on the bad, because the bad will come to all of us at some point. You have to try to get past those in your mind and make the next one.”
James, who was working with the second team in Friday night’s Blue-White scrimmage at MetLife Stadium, showed his pulling speed in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor. Slayton worked with Davis Webb and the third team.
The way James moves on the court, he has some similar athletic traits to Tony and Robinson. James, the next of the 49ers who run, said he feels there is more freedom and opportunity with Daboll’s attack. He has a special difference value as a return, and if he proves that he can fulfill a need when attacking, James will have a role and a job.
“I can do anything,” James said. ‘That’s how I look at it. I let everyone try to corner me but I don’t put myself in a box. Really pick a fish.’