Steadily, that blip has ballooned with each passing week. James was mentioned during summer workouts as a name to watch. During training camp, he's regularly been an eye-catcher. In the Chiefs' first preseason action, he flashed again, catching two of three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown -- a 43-yard bomb and a 1-yard score.
"Getting the opportunity to work with (Mahomes), he gives you a lot of advice of where he's thinking and you know where you should be at when he releases the ball," James said on Tuesday, via the team's official transcript. "Like I said, he's running the show right now."
James could be running with that show more in the future.
Injuries to Kadarius Toney and Justyn Ross, who left Tuesday's practice with a leg injury, should boost James' chances at getting on the field. Frankly, after James finished No. 1 in catch rate over expected last season in New York, we should have expected the 27-year-old to push for reps.
James' ability to gain separation from defenders gives him a shot at additional playing time -- injuries or not. On Sunday, he led the Chiefs with an average of 4.1 yards of separation in six routes run, per Next Gen Stats. Unlike some wideouts who are at a loss in traffic, James has shown he doesn't need all that separation to win. Just look at that 43-yard snag from Blaine Gabbert in New Orleans, which had just 0.8 yards of separation, per NGS.
A seventh-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2018, James played sparingly his first three seasons (689 total yards on 38 catches with three TDs in 40 appearances) before a knee injury wiped out his 2021 campaign. He latched on in New York with Brian Daboll's Giants last season and became something of a marvel. He set career highs with 57 catches, 569 yards and four TDs. James proved a reliable target for Daniel Jones in big moments.
In 2022, James earned an 81.4 catch percentage (tops among all WRs with at least 50 targets) and generated a 119.6 passer rating for quarterbacks targeting him (third-highest behind Christian Watson and Stefon Diggs).
Now he has a chance to play with Mahomes.
"You can tell he's been in the system for a while, and he knows where the ball is going to go pre-snap," James said of the MVP QB. "He does a really good job of telling you, 'Hey, expect the ball right here at this moment.' (So) eyes better be up, hands ready."
The offseason started with talk of Toney and Skyy Moore making leaps in their second seasons in K.C. Ditto for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Then the Chiefs drafted Rashee Rice, who can thrive as a vertical threat. Then Ross began to make plays in practice. Through it all, James has quietly gone about his work and slowly earned more reps.
I'm not suggesting James will become a full-fledged No. 1 receiver, or you should draft him early for your fantasy football team. I'm saying: Don't be surprised when Mahomes needs to make some plays in big moments in 2023 that it's James on the other end.
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