49ers rookie spotlight: What to expect from WR Dante Pettis in 2018

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 08: Wide receiver Dante Pettis #8 of the Washington Huskies looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks on October 8, 2016 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 08: Wide receiver Dante Pettis #8 of the Washington Huskies looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks on October 8, 2016 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers moved up in Round 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft to grab Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis. Let’s take a look at his role this upcoming season.

For most other teams, moving up to No. 44 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft to grab former Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis would have been a reach.

Not for head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers, though.

Pettis, 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, was arguably the best collegiate route runner a year ago. That’s precisely the reason Shanahan and Co. brought the young talent aboard. And he’ll have the chance to make a serious impact right away.

Just how much? Well, NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks (h/t Pat Holloway of Niners Nation) predicted Pettis would have a 1,000-yard receiving season his rookie year.

Not bad, if the projection comes to fruition. Not bad at all.

Pettis was also explosive in the return game too. Over four years at Washington, he accumulated 1,274 punt return yards and nine touchdowns. The Niners can easily opt to put Pettis into this role right away.

But San Francisco spent a second-round pick on him to do more than just contribute on special teams.

In this article, we’ll break down Pettis’ strengths, weaknesses and see what the 49ers have in mind for this talented receiver.

Dante Pettis’ Strengths

Route running is going to be the prime staple to Pettis’ game. He’s elusive and more than capable of creating separation in open space.

An ankle injury prevented him from running a 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and at his pro day, but NFL Draft Scout projected him to have a sub-4.50 40-yard time anyway. And the route-running abilities help make up for lack of elite-level speed.

Here’s what Pro Football Focus had to say about the addition:

"Former Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis, San Francisco’s second-round pick and our 100th-ranked overall player, is a skilled route-runner with reliable hands that can develop into quite the security blanket for Garappolo. He dropped just seven of his 169 catchable targets in his Huskies career and adds even more value with his special teams prowess as a returner."

In addition to Pettis’ elusiveness and route-running capabilities, he’s a sure-handed pass catcher.

Considering the Niners had the fourth most dropped passes in the NFL last season (37), Pettis’ presence should do some good.

Dante Pettis’ Weaknesses

Despite being on the taller side of the 49ers’ predominantly short wide receivers, Pettis’ sub-200 pound frame will need to see some bulk in order to better compete at the pro level. Bigger cornerbacks can bump him off routes, and his speed isn’t enough to make up for the difference.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

This might end up being something of a hindrance in the red zone, where the Niners ranked 27th in touchdown efficiency last year. Confined spaces require the crispest of route running, and press corners can make their impact without having to worry as much about losing out on big separation.

As such, one might not view Pettis as a prime red-zone threat. Not until those woes are addressed, at least.

How the 49ers Will Use Pettis in 2018

There seems to be some confusion among some fans on exactly what the plan is with Pettis. Perhaps it stems from NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who saw Pettis as a slot-only receiver and wondering how the rookie would fit alongside San Francisco’s other slot, Trent Taylor:

"An outstanding punt returner. Very slight. I think he’s a natural slot. What’s interesting is Trent Taylor had a nice year for them in the slot last year. Can he make people miss? Yes he can but he’s not real strong."

On the surface, that would make sense. And it would devalue the 49ers’ pick of Pettis. But not in the hands of Shanahan, who doesn’t employ the traditional WR1, WR2, slot and WR4 sets other head coaches often use.

If you have trouble understanding that, just take a look at this film piece by Niner Noise’s Chris Wilson.

Pettis can line up in the slot, sure. But he’s just as capable on the outside. And with Shanahan often using crossing routes, picks, wheels and other complex patters to thwart secondaries, it doesn’t exactly matter where Pettis, Taylor and Co. line up.

That’s the plan for now. And it will take some time to work Pettis in, but hopefully not much.

Over the long run, Pettis could be the shoo-in eventual replacement for San Francisco’s presumed No. 1 wideout, Pierre Garçon, who’ll turn 32 years old before the regular season starts. And while Garçon is signed through 2021, the 49ers hold options on the final three years of his deal.

Next: 49ers film room: Looking at WR Dante Pettis' offensive fit

Pettis could be a true No. 1 as early as next season. You might not see that this year, but look for the long-term prognosis as 2018 moves along.