With San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis starting to find his feet towards the end of his rookie year, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see great things from the young receiver in 2019.
When the San Francisco 49ers traded up in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft to take wide receiver Dante Pettis No. 44 overall, it was a surprise to some. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan has particular tastes when it comes to certain positions, and Pettis had caught his eye.
The 49ers brought Pettis in for a pre-draft visit to get a firsthand look at the young receiver and were impressed with what they saw.
“He’s extremely talented. Very good route-runner,” Shanahan said post the draft. “He can separate. He has extremely good hands. Very quick. Fast enough to run all the routes. Then when you meet him and see how smart he is and how hard he works, you get why he’s the full package.”
Finishing his senior year in Washington, Pettis walked away with an NCAA record after returning nine punts for touchdowns during his four college seasons. He also chalked up 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Huskies.
There was excitement leading into the 2018 season as to what Pettis would be capable of bringing to the team, who in 2017, had great performances from then rookie receiver Trent Taylor along with Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon.
Pettis’ rookie season got off to a shaky start, showing the usual rookie mistakes and blunders. Zigging when he should have zagged, or running the ball from sideline to sideline instead of down the field.
Week 4 threw another stumbling block in Pettis’ path, with the receiver sustaining an injury to his left knee while returning a punt in the first quarter. This would see him sidelined for three games while undergoing rehab and recovery.
Following his return, Shanahan all but scrapped the idea of utilizing Pettis as a return man, unwilling to take the unnecessary risk of placing his second-round receiver in further danger of sustaining injury.
Pettis continued to struggle somewhat upon his return, still hampered slightly by his niggling knee injury. While he showed glimpses of great ability and athleticism, he was still often failing to grasp the basics more often than not. Mistiming plays and running incorrect routes along with dropped balls continued to plague the early half of his season.
Then, it was like a switch flipped.
While Pettis still did make the occasional mistake, attributed to being a rookie, he turned into one of the 49ers’ most impactful receivers. With his pure speed and ability to separate early from defenders, he became a real threat.
When Pettis is on the money, it’s almost breathtaking watching him run his routes, speeding past linebackers, safeties and corners to make the catch. His ball security also improved, with a drastic decrease to dropped balls. However, hurt by early season dropped balls, Pettis would finish 2018 with a 60 percent catch percentage.
As the season progressed, Pettis continued to show signs of improvement. He would go on to tie with tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida for most touchdowns in the year with five. Pettis was also the first rookie wide receiver since Terrell Owens to record four or more touchdowns in their rookie year for the 49ers.
Suffering another injury to his left knee in Week 16, this time due to an MCL sprain, Pettis would sit out the final week of his rookie year. He would finish with a total of 467 yards from 27 receptions, averaging 17.3 yards per reception and five touchdowns. With his longest touchdown being 75 yards:
Pettis had the highest average yards per reception out of all 49ers wide receivers and likely would have beaten wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for most yards by a receiver if he didn’t miss four regular season games due to injury.
With Garcon unlikely to return to the 49ers in 2019, and Goodwin seeing limited snaps due to injury and personal issues, Pettis is expected to be up the top of Shanahan’s go-to receivers for the upcoming season.
So why does Pettis improve in 2019?
As long as no unforeseen circumstances arise, Pettis’ game should progress into the new season. With the receiver learning and building on his skills during his first year, he is fast approaching a level where if he continues to improve and develop accordingly, the 49ers will be looking at him to be their number one or two receiver.
Per Pro Football Focus, Pettis was ranked sixth out of the 18 rookie receivers in 2018 with an overall grade of 68.5. He was also tied for first place for yards after catch with 7.9:
While free agency and 2019 NFL Draft selections will play a part in Pettis’ future role within the 49ers, it would be surprising not to see him stay atop the list of receivers. Coming into training camp, he will have had the majority of one full season under his belt, have a firmer understanding of Shanahan’s playbook and have a greater awareness of his route running.
Couple that with his displayed athleticism, speed and improved ball handling and there is no reason why Pettis shouldn’t have more yards, receptions and touchdowns for 2019. The only visible reason to see a decline would be further injury to his already injury prone left knee.
However, with the 49ers hiring a new strength and conditioning, this will hopefully alleviate the problem of the team having such a high injury rate for the past couple of seasons. Adding some extra size and weight to his frame during the offseason also wouldn’t be a bad thing for Pettis.
The ability is there for Dante Pettis to be a great receiver. And with further coaching, refinement and tweaking, he should get there. If his end of year run is anything to go by, expect big things for the young receiver in 2019.