Heading into the 2019 season, the question was whether or not San Francisco 49ers’ second-year wide receiver Dante Pettis could continue to grow into the Niners No. 1 target. Pettis had 27 receptions for 467 yards and scored five touchdowns. When a rookie averages over 17 yards a reception, you’re working with something special. Pettis accomplished this feat in 12 games, and the majority of his production came with backup quarterbacks playing.
General manager John Lynch said Pettis didn’t come into training camp last year ready to play:
“I know a lot of people have soured on him, but we haven’t. He didn’t come to camp ready to play last year physically, and we challenged him. That’s got to change. We believe if he does that, he’s a guy who can really excel in our offense.”
If Pettis came into camp overweight, that explains the injuries he suffered in training camp. He had a hip and pectoral injury in August, and Pettis’s season never got off the ground. Dante never was able to shake the drops, and that eventually led him to be phased out of the offense. Contested situations were an issue as well.
Age: 24 (turns 25 October 23)
Experience: Two accrued seasons
Pettis has two years left on his four-year contract. Pettis does not have any guaranteed salary remaining in his contract, and that means he’s no lock to make the roster. If the 49ers release him, they will save a little over a million in cap space. Pettis’s cap number this season will be $1.7 million.
How he can improve in 2020
Every “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” quote is what Kyle Shanahan was trying to get across every time he sent a “subtle” message to Pettis. It’s hard to say how Pettis can improve since he didn’t really play in 2019. What parts of the season do you remember of him? The game-winning catch against the Steelers. A couple of receptions early against the Rams. A long touchdown against Arizona. That’ll do it.
When you have a player as talented as Pettis— and I will continue to stress that Dante is gifted—you can’t go an entire season with only a few plays to your name. If that’s not the motivation for Pettis to come back locked in, it may be time for a fresh start from Pettis. He does have to improve on playing through contact. That was an issue all camp, and it carried over into the season. That’s more of a mental hurdle than a physical one.
Odds on making the roster
In one breath, Pettis is one of the most talented receivers on the roster. Yes, that includes everyone. In another breath, Pettis is in jeopardy of making the roster. The 49ers have a Super Bowl-caliber roster, but wideout remains a question. Pettis is a prime example of how fit, work ethic, and opportunities are more important than outright talent. Is there anyone who believes Kendrick Bourne is a superior wide receiver than Pettis? From a talent standpoint, I’d doubt it. If you ask the coaching staff whom they would trust on 3rd & 6, I imagine that Bourne would receive the majority if not all of the votes.
Bourne, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, and Brandon Aiyuk are 100% locks to make the roster. Trent Taylor is probably in the high 90s. That leaves one spot for Pettis, assuming San Francisco carries six receivers again. I have a hard time envisioning Kyle Shanahan giving up on Pettis after a season, basically. A lot changed from 2018 to 2019 regarding Pettis’s situation. To me, he can become the player everyone knows Pettis is capable of becoming. That’ll be up to one person, though.