The FBS individual record for career receptions is 399. Middle Tennessee State WR, Richie James (@RichardJamesII), is on pace to break it. James, a rising redshirt junior, was named a USA Today Freshman All-American in 2015. The lightly recruited former high school QB from Florida stormed onto the college football scene with 108 catches, 1,346 receiving yards, and 8 TDs on 146 targets (74.0% catch rate).
James followed up his sensational freshman campaign with 105 catches, 1,641 receiving yards, and 12 TDs on 162 targets (64.8% catch rate). Those numbers likely would have been even gaudier had MTSU not lost their star starting QB for almost all of November. When the passing game faltered, the Blue Raiders relied on James to produce in unorthodox ways. James carried the ball 30 times in November for 289 yards (9.6 ypc), threw it 6 times for 76 yards and still managed to find time to haul in 29 receptions for 431 yards and 4 TDs. In the regular season finale, James was asked to take the bulk of his snaps at QB, and he threw for 76 yards, rushed for 207 yards and had 120 through the air with 4 total TDs while leading his team to 77 points and a victory. I’ve yet to find something that Richie James hasn’t excelled at when given the opportunity.
James plays in a high tempo, quick strike offense. Success is often predicated on his QB getting the ball out fast to playmakers and them winning with their athleticism. 213 catches on 308 targets (69.2% catch rate) show he is a sure-handed tactician.
The tape shows he has extreme explosion and his 26 receptions of 30+ yards the past two seasons is good for #1 nationally and confirms he has real juice.
In 2015, James’ catch rate was 74.0% but fell to a still very impressive 64.8% in 2016 while his average yards per catch increased from 12.5 to 15.5. Those career numbers very closely mimic future first round WR, Corey Davis’, senior season at Western Michigan (70.5% catch rate and 15.5 ypc) James is slight in stature at 5-9 180 lbs but he displays a very rare and impressive catch radius for a player his size. From a size standpoint, he is comparable to New England Patriots WR, Brandin Cooks. Having outstanding body control, timing and a fearless attitude are essential for a player of his size to consistently win against longer defenders. You can see while watching his tape that he does each of those things very well.
He has strong hands, great balance, and incredible instincts once he has the football. James grew up playing a lot of RB, and that shows in his game. James’ elite burst and vision lead me to believe he could play RB at the collegiate level as well.
The NFL continues to value athletes that have this rare type of versatility. Some will question the level of competition that James plays against in Conference USA. However, his 10 for 95 vs. Alabama, 12 for 141 vs. Illinois, 22 for 278 in two combined games vs. Vanderbilt and 5 for 129 vs. Missouri, for an average of 9.8 receptions and 128.6 receiving yards against Power 5 opponents, shows he can compete and win against anybody in the country. As of my writing this, I think at the very worst, James would get a Day 2 grade in the 2018 NFL draft but he has two years of eligibility left to improve that grade if he desires. Based on the system he plays in and the much-deserved hype that I believe is forthcoming, I would not be at all surprised to see him in next year’s draft class.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Richie James and the transcript of our conversation is below:
How old were you when started playing football?
I was five or six. That’s when I started playing organized football but I was playing way before that, I was that child that wanted to go outside and play with the big kids. We had a big field in our neighborhood that all the kids used to go out to and play football at.
You played some QB in high school, did any teams recruit you as a QB?
There was only one team, and that was Kennesaw State, everyone else wanted me as an athlete, and Georgia Southern wanted me as a corner.
You looked really good at QB against Florida Atlantic, any chance you can convince Coach Franklin and Coach Stockstill to get you some more reps?
Ya, I think I could play QB. If the circumstances were the same, but I pray that doesn’t happen again (multiple QBs were out with injuries). It would be fun to get back to QB and try to put up numbers and win games.
What are some strengths or aspects of your game that really help you succeed?
I work a lot on leverage, decisive speed, head fakes and body language. The really good corners, they don’t really bite on a lot of things, so you have to incorporate a lot of things into your game when you’re playing against good safeties and corners. I work a lot on the details of the game. I watch a lot of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, I watch a lot of those guys, and I try to incorporate some of the things they do into my game. Every year I try to work on something extra.
That was actually my next question, you mentioned Brown and Beckham but are there other players either past or present that you look up to or model your game after?
Those are my favorite players that are in the game right now. I had a few in the past I used to look up to – LaDainian Tomlinson – when I was playing running back he was that guy. When I run the ball, I’m running like LT. I call myself a running back at receiver so I can do just about anything when I get the ball in my hands. I looked up to Peter Warrick. He was an area favorite of mine he came from a high school thirty minutes away and obviously, Peter Warrick, that name carries a lot of weight. He was my all-time favorite player, small guy, shifty and he could do anything he wanted to do.
You’ve had some really great games against SEC and Big 10 teams, do you personally feel any extra motivation when going to some of those bigger venues with bigger audiences or is it just another game?
It’s just another game, but I also said to myself in high school that any school that didn’t recruit me I was going to make their coaches regret it. I didn’t have a lot of offers, and I felt like I was good enough to play at any school, so that was my motivation coming out of high school. I felt like every school slept on me, so that was my ultimate goal so every time I play, I want to make you regret not recruiting me.
Do you have any individual or team goals this season?
We’ve been to bowl games the past two years, The Hawaii and Bahamas Bowls, very fun venues, but now we want to take that next step and actually win a bowl game. We have a couple other goals as a team. One is to win a conference, and the other is to beat WKU. They are our rival, and we love playing against them, and every year it’s a good game. Individually, I want to help my team any way I can. Hopefully, Coach Franklin will put me in some different spots around the field because I know teams will start dialing in on me, Vanderbilt and Bowling Green, they doubled me in man with help up top. I just want to be able to make plays and my goal this year is to be the number one receiver. I had a lot of juniors and seniors in front of me that left and so this year I just want to be the best receiver.
Did you receive a grade from the NFL after last season?
I didn’t put in for one. I just decided I was going to put my head down and play and when it’s time for me to leave, then it’s time for me to leave. I thought about it a few times, but I wanted to just put my head down and play and not even worry about a grade.
Switching gears, are you much of a video game, movie or TV show guy? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I play Call of Duty. I actually think Call of Duty helps me with my vision on the field. I used to watch a lot of shows, a lot of anime, I like Naruto. That’s all I do, I go to school, workout and come home and then play Call of Duty or watch some Naruto and that’s about it.
How about music? Who are some of your favorites?
Cole and Kendrick Lamar are my top two favorite current artists. If you go back a little bit, I would say Lil’ Wayne. I listen to all types of music like R&B, rap and I’m really kind of artsy. I love the art of music. A lot of people listen for the beats, but I like to listen for the lyrics and how they made the music. I like to paint too. That’s what I like to do on my time off.
Richie, thanks so much for your time I really appreciate it.