49ers training camp: Dante Pettis guaranteed a spot on 53-man roster

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

The 49ers’ Dante Pettis was on the bubble entering training camp following an abysmal 2019, yet he’s about as safe a lock as can be entering 2020.

Being inactive for Super Bowl LIV certainly changed the way San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis looked at his NFL career.

“There’s not too many things worse than that football-wise that could get you going,” Pettis told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner earlier this month. “Being inactive for the Super Bowl, that was kind of like the final straw, you could say.”

Pettis went from a promising second-round rookie in 2018, who finished strong late that year, all the way to being a relative afterthought the following season. Head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted in training camp a year ago at this time Pettis still had to prove he had a role on the 2019 squad.

After amassing 467 receiving yards and five touchdowns his rookie season, a sophomore campaign that included a mere 11 grabs for 109 yards and two touchdowns en route to his Super Bowl snub told the easy tale: Pettis was deep within Shanahan’s doghouse and in serious danger of missing out on the 2020 regular-season roster.

Coming into training camp this year, it was easy to see why Pettis would fail to miss the cut. Despite question marks at the position, Pettis was going to be a second-tier player at best, playing complementary roles to other wideouts the Niners had far more invested in, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

But both Samuel (foot) and Aiyuk (hamstring) have been shelved with injuries and aren’t likely to get back onto the field anytime between now and Week 1. And despite San Francisco continuing to onboard more wide receivers to bolster the camp depth, Pettis has certainly benefited from the increased looks he otherwise might not have received had Samuel and Aiyuk stayed healthy.

Yet the increased opportunity only goes so far. In order for Pettis to essentially guarantee himself a spot on the 53-man roster come Week 1, he’d have to seize the chances.

So far, he’s done so.

49ers WR Dante Pettis is standing out in training camp

Pettis might have gotten off to a sluggish start, but the past two weeks have revealed Pettis adding a bit more urgency and physicality to his game.

In previous years, Pettis largely avoided going over the middle in the hotly contested areas of the field. If Pettis didn’t win at the line of scrimmage with his footwork, which is usually pretty good, he’d often give up on the play and be a non-factor.

Both elements have changed, however, and Pettis’ notable comeback story has been one of the highlights for San Francisco in camp.

As training camp has ramped up in physicality and intensity, one might have previously expected Pettis to slough off. But that hasn’t been the case either, as The Athletic’s David Lombardi pointed out from practices last Wednesday:

Going over the middle and making a contested catch against one of the 49ers’ better cornerbacks is a great sign.

But it’s the combination of elements that help guarantee Pettis a roster spot.

Why Dante Pettis now makes 49ers’ 53 man roster

If Pettis was making impressive catches and improving upon some of the negatives he carried with him last year amid a still-crowded wide receiver room, that would be one thing. But it’s irresponsible to overlook the context.

Samuel and Aiyuk being out in camp, potentially out early during the regular season, is a detriment to the Niners. No getting around that. Shanahan’s offense is particularly taxing on wide receivers, and few know that better than Pettis. Yet the system requires an innate knowledge of terminology and complex routes.

Pettis, unlike the vast majority of other free agents brought in during training camp, has two-plus years’ experience here. That unquestionably helps.

Plus, Shanahan has also acknowledged multiple times how second-year players can go through the proverbial “sophomore slump,” citing Pettis as one of the later examples. While Pettis might have been squarely on the bubble before camp, San Francisco wouldn’t have prematurely given up on its second-round NFL Draft investment unless those struggles carried over into training camp this year.

So far, they haven’t.

Next. Week 1 49ers' starting lineup predictions, training camp edition. dark

The challenge for Pettis, of course, will be translating his recently found camp success over into the regular season, potentially increasing his role and gaining Shanahan’s trust once again.

For now, however, it looks as if Pettis will survive to see Week 1 of the regular season.