49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Wide receiver Dante Pettis

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers walks on the field after injuring his knee during their NFL game against the Chicago Bears at Levi's Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers walks on the field after injuring his knee during their NFL game against the Chicago Bears at Levi's Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

While injuries stunted his 2018 rookie development, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis came on strong late in the year and is poised for a big 2019 campaign.

Overall, the San Francisco 49ers‘ wide receiver corps was a massive disappointment in 2018. No Niners wideout reached 500 yards, and it took tight end George Kittle‘s record-breaking season to keep San Francisco somewhat respectable in the pass-offense game.

That said, then-rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis was a bright spot, especially later in the year.

Pettis suffered a handful of injuries early, including a knee injury in Week 4 against the Los Angeles Chargers which held him out a few weeks thereafter. And while the initial start to his pro career was relatively slow, and the overall season numbers aren’t particularly great, the final five-game stretch is something to point out:

Dante Pettis 2018 Game Log
12018-09-09122.321SFO@MINL 16-245261140.0%1
22018-09-16222.328SFODETW 30-27*2135050.0%0
32018-09-23322.335SFO@KANL 27-3800000.0%0
42018-09-30422.342SFO@LACL 27-2900000.0%0
52018-10-28823.005SFO@ARIL 15-1810000.0%1
62018-11-01923.009SFOOAKW 34-300000.0%0
72018-11-121023.020SFONYGL 23-27*6412066.7%0
82018-11-251123.033SFO@TAML 9-27*7477157.1%0
92018-12-021223.040SFO@SEAL 16-43*75129271.4%0
102018-12-091323.047SFODENW 20-14*7349142.9%0
112018-12-161423.054SFOSEAW 26-23*55830100.0%0
122018-12-231523.061SFOCHIL 9-14*5321060.0%0
12 Games4-8-04527467560.0%2

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2019.

And when you consider what those five games to close out 2018 would be if averaged over a full season, Pettis’ numbers look far more impressive:

In year two of his pro career, Pettis is going to be asked to do much more after the 49ers moved up to grab him in Round 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Can he emerge as a legitimate No. 1 wideout this season? Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Dante Pettis Improves in 2019

Pettis’ splits from late in the season suggest he can be a serious weapon at the NFL level. His route running, which was arguably the best among prospects in last year’s draft, should only serve to get better after a full year’s understanding in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Last year, Pettis was the team’s second best receiving option behind Kittle, which doesn’t say much when considering the lackluster production at wide receiver. With San Francisco adding fresh pass catchers in Jordan Matthews and the rookie, Deebo Samuel, during the offseason, Pettis should have some pressure taken off his shoulders.

It also appears as if Pettis added some weight during the offseason, too. That should help alleviate the concerns his 195-pound frame couldn’t withstand the rigors of a full 16-game season.

Why Dante Pettis Regresses

Injuries are still going to be a concern for Pettis until he proves he can stay healthy for a full year. It’s way too premature to suggest this will be an ongoing problem. But since he’s already dealt with some setbacks, it’s part of the conversation.

There’s also a bit of wonder surrounding the hopefully developing chemistry with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Nearly all of Pettis’ numbers came from Garoppolo’s backup, Nick Mullens, who handled second-half duties in 2018 under center.

One could argue “a quarterback is a quarterback” to a wide receiver. But it’s not a good argument. Each has his favorites, largely contingent on the on-field relationship. Pettis’ relationship with Garoppolo has yet to be established.

Plus, the 49ers won’t be starting off the year as a bottom-feeding team, meaning defenses are going to look to clamp down on Pettis a bit more than what was the context late in 2018.

Expected Role and Impact with the 49ers in 2019

Pettis isn’t necessarily penciled in to Shanahan’s No. 1 wide receiver role. Shanahan doesn’t use the traditional “WR1, WR2, WR3” format anyway, meaning Pettis will get his targets regardless where he falls on the depth chart.

For the most part last year, Pettis served as Shanahan’s Z-receiver, meaning he could use his footwork in motion before the snap — something he’ll likely do again this season.

It also plays into San Francisco’s offensive strengths, particularly with those lingering concerns Pettis can’t handle press coverage very well. By playing off the line of scrimmage, it won’t be as big a problem.

Numbers matter, of course, which points to Pettis’ overall impact being felt on the stat sheet. Assuming he stays healthy, Pettis could easily reach 1,000 receiving yards in 2019, which would make him the first 49ers wideout to do so since Anquan Boldin back in 2014.

Last year’s splits certainly suggest it’s possible, and a revamped Niners offense should only make Pettis’ life easier.

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Staying healthy is going to be a factor, though, yet the 49ers could be poised to finally have a true No. 1 wide receiver threat within their ranks this season.