San Francisco 49ers fans probably did not expect to say "We've got a deep receiving corps," but such is the case with the 2018 squad. Pierre Garçon is the leader of this bunch, and he's joined by a young squad of Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, tight end George Kittle, Kendrick Bourne, and the rookie Dante Pettis.
Coming out of Washington, Pettis broke the NCAA record for career punt return touchdowns, and put up 761 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 catches in his senior season. The 49ers chose to swoop him under their wing and drafted him in the second round with the 44th overall pick. Here, he should expect to see time as a return specialist while also taking his time by developing behind some of the more experience players on San Francisco's receiving corps.
Dante Pettis is a raw player that had shown flashes of his potential during his senior season. Obviously, the expectation is he won't have a huge impact as a receiver in his rookie season, but as a blocker, he'll provide value.
Pettis was a great blocker in college, as demonstrated on this play. It's a designed screen where Pettis is asked to clear a lane for the slot receiver. He successfully uses his footwork to block the defensive back from access to the sideline, allowing the slot receiver to cut outside, pick up the first down, and then some.
In today's NFL, you need players that show greatness as an X or as a Z receiver. X receivers are lined up at the line of scrimmage whereas Z receivers are a little behind the line of scrimmage. The X receiver aligns to the weak side of the formation whereas the Z receiver aligns to the strength.
Here, Pettis lines up as the X running a slant route. He's a patient route runner, and he overwhelms the press coverage by using his hands to swipe away the cornerback's, then accelerates inside. The help over the top doesn't arrive in time, giving the quarterback an easy throw a little outside the hash marks for the first down.
Now, head coach Kyle Shanahan is heavily influenced by the West Coast Offense, and in this offense the quarterback generally releases the ball quickly. A staple of the West Coast Offense happens to be the corner route, encouraging the receiver to run the route quickly while giving the quarterback a nice, easy, immediate read to work with.
Including his ability to work as an X and Z receiver, Pettis's role on the corner route is a big reason why Shanahan wanted to take him and develop him. He takes guys that are particularly dangerous in certain areas of the field and uses mismatches to make it a little easier for the receivers to get open.
Here, Pettis skins the cornerback from the start. He jabs his left foot at the line of scrimmage, pushes off, and gets inside leverage on the defensive back. The DB loses his balance, and that's when Pettis fakes a post route, baiting the DB and allowing Pettis to run the corner route with ease.
Incredibly, the throw from the quarterback is horrendous. The ball should be placed on the sideline, and yet the throw puts Pettis back in harm's way. This is only the icing on the cake to the highlight reel, however, as Pettis plants his feet and makes a beautiful adjustment catch to bail out his quarterback.
It's safe to say Pettis can also be lined up in the slot, where his strong, quick hands benefit this play on a switch concept.
Don't expect too much from Dante Pettis in his rookie season, but that's largely because of his position on the wide receiver depth chart. His blocking and returning ability will greatly benefit the 49ers in 2018, and down the road he could be a valuable replacement for Pierre Garçon. Pettis has shown flashes of talent against man, press and zone coverage, as an X, as a Z, or as a slot receiver.
After watching him, it's clear why Kyle Shanahan went forward and drafted Pettis. He fits the West Coast concept that Shanahan is a disciple of, making it a little easier for the sophomore head coach to create mismatches. Will Dante Pettis become that receiver? Who knows, but under Shanahan's system, his potential will be maximized to the best of its ability.
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