The San Francisco 49ers report for training camp on July 25th, at which point position competitions will work their way into focus. Training camp also means we finally get to see the youngest and newest members of the 49ers get into pads and engage in some real contact with the team for the first time.
As training camp approaches, we thought it would be fun to take a look at each of the 49ers notable rookies, and consider the best and worst case scenarios for them this season. We are looking at draft picks and a handful of UDFAs. Additionally, by best and worst case scenario, I’m thinking realistic best and worst. Sure, they could become All Pros as rookies or could end up getting cut by the end of training camp. But let’s consider realistically what would be the best and the worst for each.
Today, we’ll head over to former University of Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis. He was an outstanding punt returner in college, breaking the record for most punt return touchdowns in NCAA history. He was a great route runner and catcher, but his 14.2 yard average on punt returns is what really catches your eye. The 49ers have gone 111 straight games without returning a punt for a touchdown, so Pettis brings some hope to end that streak.
Best case scenario for 2018
He takes over as the 49ers punt returner and finishes the season as a top ten punt return man, potentially earning a Pro Bowl appearance. Outside of the obvious special teams optimism, he could be a good third or fourth option behind Pierre Garçon. The 49ers have indicated they want to play him in several different positions so he’s not limited to just the slot or the outside. If he can adjust to the NFL game quickly, he becomes a dedicated component of the offense where the 49ers have packages made just for him.
Worst case scenario for 2018
Pettis would be the team’s punt returner, but not much else. Like Ted Ginn, Jr. from a few years back, he would be featured in some go routes, but nothing substantial beyond that due to struggles at the NFL level. Something to note is that a lot of his huge numbers came against sub-standard opposition. Six of his seven receiving touchdowns came against Fresno State and Oregon State, and their defenses were not exactly good. He may be a backup kick return man as well due to his speed but whenever he’s put on the field for a offensive play or series, he’s not depended on to catch the ball and is only there to keep defenses guessing.