49ers WR Dante Pettis must capitalize on last chance in 2020

Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

It’s no secret 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis is on the hot seat, and he’ll need to have the training camp of camps in 2020 to hang around.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s “doghouse” is a tough place from which to emerge.

And that’s exactly where third-year wide receiver Dante Pettis finds himself entering 2020.

A year removed from a promising end to his rookie 2018 campaign, the Niners’ former Round 2 selection from that year’s NFL Draft ended up falling dramatically in Shanahan’s perspective, going from a possible starter all the way to being inactive in Super Bowl LIV. Forget those splits from 2018 suggesting Pettis could be a 1,000-yard receiver.

All Pettis did was manage a couple of noteworthy touchdowns to go along with a handful of targets last year, putting up quite the contrast to his first-year efforts:

Dante Pettis Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/22/2020.

The troubles started in training camp last year, drawing criticisms from Shanahan. And after the 2019 season was in the books, Shanahan called out Pettis again, urging him to “go on a mission.”

If Pettis fails to do this, he could easily be off San Francisco’s roster by Week 1.

Fortunately for Pettis, the context is there for a bounce-back campaign. Second-year players often go through regressions — a fact Shanahan even pointed out when he prompted Pettis to bounce back. On top of that, the 49ers are going to be shorthanded at the position to start the regular season, particularly in the wake of injuries to fellow wideouts Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist).

This could open up the door for Pettis to return to the kind of form seen in 2018.

Whether or not he can is the subject matter for the latest installment of Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series.

Why Dante Pettis improves with 49ers in 2020

Pettis surely understands his situation, and that alone should be motivation enough. Another lackluster year in camp would only translate to bad things happening.

But it isn’t as if the former Washington Husky’s skill set just disappeared. Case in point, his separation footwork is still worth marveling at, shown in this 2018 touchdown against the Denver Broncos (Pettis is at the bottom of the screen):

And if one looks at those late-season numbers he put up in 2018, albeit on a team that went 4-12, it’s not hard to understand why Pettis could manage some serious statistical improvement in the near future:

Pettis simply didn’t forget how to do any of this. Yes, he had issues with drops in training camp last year, although the reports from many an insider present highlighted them as focus drops, not necessarily pertaining to any lack of skill.

If Pettis is able to rectify this while getting his separation and route-running skills back into his toolbag, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see him return to form and emerge out of Shanahan’s doghouse.

Why Dante Pettis regresses with 49ers in 2020

It’ll be hard for Pettis to get much worse than he did with San Francisco a season ago, if he makes the team of course.

But even with the increased opportunity in the wake of Samuel and James’ injuries, Pettis still has a number of bodies with whom he’ll have to overcome in training camp to climb higher on the team’s depth chart. The 49ers invested a first-round pick in wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, then used a seventh rounder on another wideout in Jauan Jennings. Both of those players will get a lot of looks in camp.

On top of that, Pettis will have to deal with returning veterans Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Hurd, to name a few, who are all vying for one of perhaps six spots on the 53-man roster.

Even if Pettis flashes some noticeable improvement, he’ll likely wind up being pegged no higher than third or fourth on the team’s depth chart to open the season.

That doesn’t bode well for any sort of statistical impact in 2020.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

It’s weird to think Pettis is on the roster bubble just two years after being the No. 44 overall pick in the draft, especially noteworthy because the Niners traded up to get him.

But Pettis is on the bubble. Exactly where, however, is anyone’s guess and likely won’t be accurately determined until at least the first few weeks of camp. Being a second-round pick, the 49ers simply waiving him wouldn’t necessarily be cheap, generating nearly $1.4 million in dead money against only $378,132 in cap savings. Yet there’s always the thought San Francisco could explore trading the wide receiver to a receiver-needy team.

Perhaps the Minnesota Vikings or New England Patriots come to mind.

Doing that would save over $1 million in cap savings while netting the 49ers something in return. While any sort of draft compensation would be far less than what the Niners initially invested in him, at least it could open up the door for another potentially promising wideout to make the cut while freeing Shanahan from a receiver for whom he no longer has any use.

Or Pettis could simply shine and leave Shanahan no choice but to feature him early in 2020.

Next. 3 remaining free agents who have ties to 49ers. dark

Those are all possible outcomes between now and Week 1, which stand to make Pettis’ immediate efforts in the next few weeks ones to watch closely.