After a hard fought game the San Francisco 49ers suffered their first defeat of the Jimmy Garoppolo era. The loss wasn’t surprising, how the Niners lost was. The Vikings are a better team, however watching the Niners hang in after turning the ball over four times was quite impressive. Though the Niners hung around, it was obvious the Niners missed Jerick McKinnon’s influence on the offense. Insert Richie James.
Kyle Shanahan needs to activate James and play him in the McKinnon role. James has experience in the role from his days at Middle Tennessee. James is shifty, big enough to run between the tackles, fast enough for outside zone and also someone who can line up in the slot. James should be deployed in the same way Tyreek Hill is deployed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
James would add another dimension to the Niners offense and allow the Niners to do more things than Kendrick Bourne does. Bourne didn’t make an impact against the Vikings defense, James would have. Shanahan is smart enough to know what he has and he needs to get James involved sooner rather than later.
For those who watched James in college they would see a player who rushed for over 500 yards in 3 college seasons while averaging 9.1 yards per carry. His carries were mostly fly sweeps and reverses, though he did have some carries between the tackles. James was the prototype gadget player in college and will be perfect in that role for the Niners.
This might seem like a drastic move since James was inactive against the Vikings, but watching his college tape and preseason performance, it’s clear he needs to be on the field. Whenever James is on the field he gives the Niners something they don’t have. Imagine formations with Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle and James on the field. Good luck stopping those five guys.
Instead of targeting a true number one wide receiver the Niners went for shorter, more explosive route runners. Since Pettis and James are the future of the wide receiver position in San Francisco, it’s time to see them both on the field and give them an opportunity to shine.
Of course, there’s no guarantee James can fill the McKinnon role. He might be too small and not quite fast enough. However, the Niners won’t know unless they give him a shot.
Even if he can’t, having James on the field with Pettis and Goodwin could be dynamic. Goodwin is one of the best deep threats in the lead and Shanahan put Pettis in motion faking the reverse multiple times against the Vikings. Having James line up in the backfield and Pettis coming in motion across the formation puts lots of pressure on defenses pre-snap.
This season is still a mini rebuild for the Niners, so it’s important to see what they have. James is a dynamic player who has the potential to be really dynamic. He’ll probably get a shot sometime this season, but it should be sooner rather than later.