In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.
To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:
Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.
Because we aren’t going to give you the likes of mainstream sleepers, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Adam Thielen is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.
The San Francisco 49ers look like a franchise on the upswing. The first step was making John Lynch the general manager and anointing Kyle Shanahan the head coach and offensive mastermind. Last season, they traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who looked like a potential star in the five starts he made for the 49ers. This off-season, they let Carlos Hyde walk but signed Jerick McKinnon to a potentially large contract. While the hype surrounding Garoppolo and McKinnon has been out of control lately, San Francisco’s wide receivers have received much less attention.
The 49ers have a decent wide receiver group, but there is still uncertainty surrounding them. First off, Pierre Garcon is coming off a neck injury and Trent Taylor has battled a back injury this off-season. In addition, Marquise Goodwin is coming off a solid season, but his role in 2018 is still unclear with the additions to the group (Garcon back plus rookies). Goodwin has also reportedly suffered six concussions in his NFL career, including five over the previous two seasons. Furthermore, Kendrick Bourne flashed at the end of last season but is just entering his second year and Dante Pettis is just a rookie.
Opportunity is half the battle for these deep sleepers. Because of the uncertainty in San Francisco’s passing game, there is a receiver pushed down the depth chart who I believe can rise up and earn a significant role for the team
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Richie James, WR
Category: Deep Sleeper
- 5’10’’, 183 pounds
- 40-time: 4.48 seconds
- Vertical: 35.50 inches
- Broad-Jump: 122.0 inches
- 3-cone time: 6.87 seconds
Being a college football enthusiast, I have been a fan of Richie James ever since his early days at Middle Tennessee State. He was a small-school player who did not always receive as much national attention as others, but he played with a tremendous amount of fight and toughness for his size.
As seen below, he posted impressive statistics in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was a very consistent producer, even in his freshman season. The lowest yardage total he had as a sophomore was 73 yards. In addition, he had surprising touchdown totals (nine as a freshman and 16 as a sophomore). He was on his way to another stellar season as a junior, but it was cut short due to a broken collarbone.
Stats provided by Sports-Reference.
James is just 5’10’’ and 183 pounds, but he plays bigger than his size. He makes tough catches over the middle of the field and is difficult to bring down when he has the ball in his hands. Simply put, he is an electric playmaker. I do worry his size will limit him in the NFL (see Tavon Austin), but if the 49ers figure out a role for him he could thrive in it.
My initial thought was he could take over the slot role for the 49ers. However, there are multiple players vying for that position. First off, Trent Taylor was very reliable in the slot for the 49ers as a rookie last season. In addition, coach Shanahan reportedly envisions Dante Pettis as a dynamic player who can play each receiver position.
Taylor and James both have similar builds, but I see the latter as more of a playmaker. Looking at NFL Combine numbers, James has a much faster 40-time, higher broad jump, and higher vertical. However, Taylor did post faster three-cone and shuttle times. While Pettis may see some snaps out of the slot, I do not expect him to be a full-time slot receiver. The 49ers’ slot role could be a productive one with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. If James can beat out Trent Taylor, I think he has a great shot at earning a role in the offense.
As you can see from the graphic below, James’s DLF ADP has been sitting right around the 230-240 range since he was drafted by the 49ers. He is likely sitting on the very end of someone’s bench or even on the waiver wire in your league. Being so cheap to acquire, having to cut him down the line will not be nearly as hard as someone like Kevin White, who many invested a first round rookie pick on. James is an investment with almost no risk but still some upside.
When targeting deep sleepers, I try to identify players who have a skill set I value plus an opportunity for playing time. Richie James has both. He is one of my favorite targets at the tail end of rookie drafts or on the waiver wire immediately after the rookie draft concludes. If he earns a role in San Francisco’s offense, he is easily worth more than you paid to acquire him.
As always, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @TheDevyDude or in the comment section below if you would like to discuss Richie James, the 49ers, or anything at all! For those who plan on picking up James or have already done so, hopefully that investment works out for you!