© Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports
SANTA CLARA —49ers rookies, former undrafted free agents, and camp invites have arrived at the Santa Clara facility for rookie mini-camp that started Thursday. Several of San Francisco’s recent draft picks and former undrafted free agents addressed the media before Friday practice.
The hour-long session featured several position drills, followed by 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 scrimmaging. Among the standouts was wide receiver Richie James, who gained solid separation and ran polished routes, resulting in four catches throughout the scrimmages.
After rough upbringing and persistent injury issues, Richie James is ready to make an impact
James plays with a discernible rugged attitude, which stems from his upbringing.
The Middle Tennessee State product grew up in the Sarasota, Florida, streets. He used football as an avenue to get to college, and now onto an NFL career.
“You got to have an attitude to get out of there,” James said. “It’s rough. I grew up in the streets of Sarasota. It’s a lot of trouble around the area, lot of crime, but you got to make your way out. That’s why I am here.”
James was a three-star recruit coming out high school, with offers from small schools including Georgia Southern and Kent State. He chose Middle Tennessee State, where he would break records and eventually put himself on NFL radars.
His freshman year, he compiled 107 catches, 1,334 yards, and eight touchdowns. His sophomore year was even more dominant, as he amassed 105 catches, 1,625 yards, and four touchdowns.
James is the school’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, despite playing in only five games as junior due to a broken collarbone. He suffered two shoulder injuries throughout his college career, both to the same right shoulder.
James ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and lifted only six bench reps at his Pro Day. Those outputs didn’t help James, who already had to overcome injury concerns, as he approached the draft.
He expected to be selected late, but once the seventh round came, he said his “ears perked up.” The 49ers picked him with the 240th overall selection.
“I am really surprised I went that late,” James said. “Even the commentators said they were surprised I went that late. But at the same time, I understand that’s part of it, and the part of that is I got injured last year. I understood there were a lot of red flags— teams didn’t want to take a chance.”
He says his shoulder is now fully healed. James, who stands at 5-foot-9, will likely see time at both wide receiver and in the slot. He says he models his game after Antonio Brown, who has set the precedent for dominance at both spots.
D.J. Reed was the second-best punt returner in the NCAA last year— and the second-best in the 49ers’ draft class
On any other team, Kansas State product D.J. Reed would have been the top draft pick as a returner prospect. Reed averaged 14.9 yards-per-punt and 34.2 yards-per-kickoff, both of which ranked as the second-best totals in the country last season.
The top punt returner in the nation? That title belongs to San Francisco’s second-round pick Dante Pettis, who averaged a whopping 20.4 yards-per-punt with Washington in 2017.
Reed, San Francisco’s fifth-round pick, and Pettis know each other’s accolades. They shagged punts together during Friday’s walkthrough.
“We were both laughing because people were like, ‘You returned kicks?’” Reed said. “And we were like, ‘A little bit.’”
Reed is much more than a returner, though. His 19 passes defended for Kansas State in 2016 led the Big 12. He was named a first-team All-Big 12 player last season after compiling 47 tackles, four interceptions, and nine pass breakups.
At 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Reed doesn’t fit the prototype of the big, physical cornerbacks in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense. Reed has 32-inch arms, though. He will be tested at both cornerback and nickel back throughout the preseason. Reed said he has experience playing both positions from his high school days.
He has used his size disadvantage as motivation.
“I just knew I was going to have to work hard because of my height,” Reed said. “I was going to have to be better than everybody, just straight up better than everybody. I always told myself I got to work harder than everybody. You don’t really fit in; you don’t past the look test.””
Tarvarius Moore went from an NFL Combine snub to hot commodity
Tarvarius Moore, San Francisco’s third-round pick, was one of the top safety prospects in the draft. The Southern Miss product produced eight pass breakups in 2017, the fourth-most in the country.
He wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, however. He promptly dominated his Pro Day.
Moore ran a 4.32 40-yard dash, which would have been tied for the fastest time at the Combine. He produced a 39.5-inch vertical leap and 11-foot-1 broad jump, making him one of the top athletes in the entire 2018 class.
“I probably was an under-the-radar guy,” Moore said. “Not a lot of teams knew a lot about me, and if they did, they were trying to keep it under wraps. But after my Pro Day, it definitely opened a lot of eyes, and I was no longer that guy you could just sweep under the rug.”
The 49ers targeted Moore long before his Pro Day. 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley realized the augmented interest in Moore after his performance, so Hafley called the coveted safety as many as three or four times per day at times to reaffirm San Francisco’s interest.
Moore took 13 pre-draft visits. In nearly three weeks’ worth of interviews, he was only home for two days, which he used to wash his clothes. He didn’t have time to visit the 49ers because of his packed schedule.
“(Hafley) was upset when everyone else found out about me,” Moore said.
But the 49ers got their guy when they scooped Moore with the No. 95 overall pick. With a logjam of starting-caliber safeties on the roster, the 49ers plan to try him at cornerback. He played the position in high school until switching to safety his senior year.
Moore said he feels comfortable playing cornerback, especially in San Francisco’s man-to-man schemes, which he played at Southern Miss. He also welcomes learning from one of the game’s best.
“Having that experienced corner like Richard Sherman, (I can) definitely can learn a lot from him,” Moore said,” and only elevate my game to the next level.
Darren Crawford has NFL bloodlines, and a small window of opportunity to impress
One of San Francisco’s camp invites is Darren Crawford, a former Southern Arkansas defensive back with NFL bloodlines. His grandfather is Fred Dean, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who helped lead the 49ers to wins in Super Bowls XVI and XIX.
Dean was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Crawford made the trip, though he didn’t understand the magnitude of his ‘Papa’s’ accomplishment as a middle-schooler.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got to college,” Crawford said. “In high school, I was just playing football just to be playing, but going through college, different things happening then, being with my Papa more, he’s telling me about it.”
Crawford grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, just like Dean. Crawford grew up hearing tales of Dean’s smash-mouth style. Now, Crawford is trying to make his own mark in a small window of opportunity.
In his final three years at Southern Arkansas, he produced eight interceptions and 34 total pass breakups. But he received no interest from any team aside from the 49ers, which called Crawford Wednesday at 5 p.m to invite him to rookie mini-camp the next day. He woke up at 4 a.m. Thursday to fly out.
Now, he has a lifeline.
“I didn’t think anybody wanted me until they called me at that moment,” Crawford said. “It just changed everything.”