College football season is here! In this series, I’ll break down the top-10 returning college wide receivers from 2016 by dominator rating (DR), using our FBS WR database. If you’re unfamiliar with dominator rating, it’s a receiver’s combined market share for yardage and TDs. While it’s only one element in receiver evaluation – and requires age and experience adjustments to tell the full story – it provides an excellent snapshot of a player’s role within his offense. Consider this an early look at potential rookies next year. Some of the names may surprise you. First up, Richie James.
James ran track and was a standout wide receiver for three years at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida and switched to quarterback his senior year. Ranked as a two-star WR on Rivals, he did not receive any offers from Florida schools. James was on his way to Georgia Southern until their head coach left for another job. With his path clear, James accepted an offer from Middle Tennessee State and signed his letter of intent in January 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound athlete redshirted his freshman year as he adjusted to the college game and life away from home.
The 21-year-old redshirt junior was a Third Team All-American last season as he led the Blue Raiders in every receiving category. The pure counting stats are impressive with 105 receptions, 1,625 yards, and 12 touchdowns. To put those video game numbers into context, James accounted for 38 percent of MTSU’s receiving yards and 31 percent of receiving TDs, resulting in a 35 percent dominator rating. Those are nice improvements on his breakout freshman campaign at age 20. If we compare that to the 2017 rookie class, James’ 2016 fits between K.D. Cannon (.36) and John Ross (.34).
|Year||Class||G||Rec||Rec Yds||Rec TD||Team Passing||Team TDs||MS Yards||MS TD||Dom|
Aside from his receiving prowess, James is used as an offensive weapon all over the field. In the MTSU spread offense, he completed six of seven passes for 80 yards last season. Rushing production jumped from 13 carries for 158 yards and one TD in 2015 to 38 carries for 339 yards and four TDs in 2016. However, the majority of those carries were direct snaps, not handoffs. James also took over as the primary punt returner in 2016, converting 17 returns into 128 yards and has carried that role into 2017.
James’ athletic profile is still to be determined. He ran a 4.60 forty-yard dash with a 28.3-inch vertical jump out of high school. On the flip side, NFL Draft Scout projects his 40 at 4.47. That’s more like it, but for someone the size of Tavon Austin and T.Y. Hilton, he’s probably not a burner.
Despite his stature, James has a strong production profile on a prolific offense. His two-year production was enough to challenge the school record books, and James is now the all-time leader in receiving yards. His strength of schedule could be a knock for NFL evaluators, along with his size. However, his ability to produce through the air, on the ground, and as a returner is encouraging.
James is off to a fast start in 2017 with 10 catches, 132 yards from scrimmage, and a TD against Vanderbilt.