If I told you the 49ers’ 2018 second-round pick would be cut this year, you’d call me crazy.
What’s crazier is not enough people are talking about how a seemingly promising prospect was propelled to the bottom of the depth chart in less than a calendar year.
The 24-year-old wide receiver is entering his third season with the San Francisco 49ers and may already be in danger of losing his spot on the roster for the 2020 season. Wide receiver Dante Pettis made quite the impression on fans, teammates and Niners brass during his rookie season. He had a shaky first half of the season due to various injuries but between Weeks 12 and 16, Pettis accrued 21 catches, 359 yards and four touchdowns.
That stretch of games left a lot of doubters, who felt Pettis was over-drafted by the 49ers in the 2018 NFL Draft, speechless. He was primarily seen during his four years with the Washington Huskies as a return specialist, netting only 163 catches, 2,256 yards and 24 touchdowns in 52 games. Due to his explosive ending to his rookie season, many saw him as the team’s WR1 going into 2019, but things seemed to have gone another way.
Many critics felt Pettis looked small going into Niners offseason training camp, citing his offseason work ethic as, for lack of a better word, “lazy.” This may have seemed unfair at the time until Pettis stepped onto the field. It seemed Pettis’ inability to take the next step in his physical development held him back during his sophomore season. His lack of size hindered his ability to make contested catches against aggressive press cover corners and he was quickly pushed out of the game plan. His running mate, Deebo Samuel, quickly started to shine and was able to separate himself from the rest of the Niner receiving corps. By Week 10, Samuel was being seen as the team’s lead wide receiver option due to his dominant/strong style of play. In only his rookie season, Samuel was playing like a veteran, constantly using his body to make contested catches and flash his yards-after-the-catch ability.
With the exception of a game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, Pettis’ season can be summed up in one word: bust. By Week 10 onward, Pettis was literally removed from the team’s game plan. He did not register a single catch, let alone a target for the rest of the season.
He finished the regular season with 11 catches, 109 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. This would have been an acceptable stat line for a player on the practice squad, not a 2018 second-round pick.
With Sanders leaving to the New Orleans Saints in free agency, some felt a spot had reopened on the Niners depth chart. It was assumed Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd (if healthy) and Pettis would be fighting for that spot until the 2020 NFL Draft happened.
The Niners had the luxury of owning two first-round picks following the trade of star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. It was highly speculated going into the draft the Niners would select a wide receiver with one of their early round picks to secure a running mate for Samuel, and that’s exactly what the Niners brass did. Not only did they draft Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, but they actually traded up from pick No. 31 overall to get him, displaying just how badly the dynamic duo of the 49ers front office, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, wanted Aiyuk.
There were even reports citing Shanahan, saying Aiyuk and now-Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb were neck and neck on the 49ers’ big board.
That is bad news for Pettis’ future with the 49ers organization.
Aiyuk seems to be poised to step into the WR2 role on the team, where he is being seen as another YAC monster who fits perfectly in the Shanahan system. Shanahan is often careful about his praise of rookies, but to essentially say Aiyuk is a lock to be a focal point in the Niners’ 2020 game plan puts a damper on Pettis’ chances to make an impression this offseason.
Following this season’s offseason program and the 2020 NFL Draft, with the emergence of Samuel, the return of Taylor and Hurd, the additions of Aiyuk and seventh-round wideout Juan Jennings through the draft, Pettis may be forced to find a new uniform to wear this coming season.
The 49ers are clearly a contender in 2020 following their 2019 Super Bowl run and will not be looking to take chances on players who simply do not have what it takes to consistently make an impact on game day.