Not too long after he was hired as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, John Lynch stepped to the podium to introduce a large crop of free agent acquisitions. One of those additions was fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Lynch didn’t introduce Juszczyk as a fullback. Instead, he labeled the All-Pro as an offensive weapon, or an “O.W.” for short. Juszczyk’s versatility allowed Kyle Shanahan to take advantage of all sorts of mismatches throughout the year. Keeping the trend going, the second-round selection of wide receiver Dante Pettis gives Shanahan another offensive weapon in which to exploit matchups.
Dante Pettis Is an Offensive Chess Piece
The most alluring part of Pettis game is when he has the ball in his hands. His acceleration, shiftiness, and vision make him a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. There is no greater evidence of his elusiveness than his resume as a punt returner. Pettis holds the NCAA record for most career punt returns for touchdowns, tallying nine.
When the 49ers selected Pettis, the consensus thought was that he would slide into the slot position. This thought makes sense, as his shiftiness is in line with that of a prototypical slot receiver. However, Pettis does not have a lot of experience in the slot. It wasn’t until his last year at Washington that he took significant snaps inside.
Despite this, there is no denying that Pettis will see significant slot snaps, though Shanahan will be clever about how he gets these snaps. A Marquise Goodwin 24-yard reception against the Jacksonville Jaguars gives a blueprint. Goodwin motioned from the boundary into the slot, allowing for a favorable matchup with a boundary cornerback. Goodwin then ran a quick in-route for a nice gain. Allowing Pettis to get similar matchups with boundary cornerbacks in the slot will allow for his game-breaking skill to shine.
One of the major failures of the 2017 49ers was the inability to produce touchdowns in the red zone. The 49ers ranked 27th in the NFL in red zone efficiency last year. It was no secret that the 49ers would address that in some way during the offseason, but how they would address it was the mystery. The 49ers passed on signing Allen Robinson or drafting Courtland Sutton, both big, physical receivers thought to be ideal for hauling in touchdowns in the red zone.
Pettis is not a typical red zone threat. One negative of his game is that his lean, 6’0” frame could get pushed around, especially near the end zone. In spite of this, Pettis had great success in the red zone. Of his 22 touchdown receptions for the Washington Huskies, 12 came within 20 yards of the end zone. His precision route running coupled with his insane acceleration make him a red zone threat, as he displayed in college.
The common conception that big bodied receivers have the most success in the hauling in short touchdowns is just not true. Consider the fact that in 2017, the three receivers that caught the most touchdowns within ten yards of the end zone were Jarvis Landry, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown. Pettis playing style favors that of Landry and Brown, both elite route runners with smaller frames. Though he doesn’t look it, Pettis gives the 49ers a weapon in the red zone that they’ve been sorely lacking.
One of the traits that Shanahan covets in his wide receivers is speed. Taking deep shots are an integral part of Shanahan’s scheme. Also, receivers that possess top-end speed mandate attention down the field, and clear space for other receivers underneath. Goodwin is a prime example of how speed thrills under Shanahan.
It is unclear how fast Pettis is. He did not participate in the forty-yard dash at the combine or his pro-day. One of the knocks against him as a prospect is that he lacks elite speed. Pettis claims to be able to run a 4.37 forty-yard dash. If he is true to his word, he has plenty of speed to be one of Shanahan’s burners.
Regardless of how fast he actually is, he played like a speed-demon at Washington. Throughout his collegiate career, he produced five touchdowns of longer than forty yards. He consistently showed an ability to get behind opposing defensive-backs, like with this large gain against Rutgers. Pettis’ speed can be used not only for large chunk gains, but to open up short routes for his fellow pass-catching teammates.
The Last Word
Overall, Pettis seems like the perfect fit for the 49ers. He has the skill set to win both on the boundary and in the slot. He also possesses the route running, quickness, and speed to make an impact deep down the field and in the red zone. The amount of havoc Shanahan could create with him should scare opposing defensive coordinators. Pettis could line up in multiple spots, be motioned around the field until he gets a favorable matchup, and then exploit said matchup. Much has been made of what exactly Shanahan wants in his wide receiver corps. Typically, Shanahan offenses have true do-it-all receivers, such as Julio Jones, Josh Gordon, and Andre Johnson. Dante Pettis appears to the next great receiver for which Shanahan gets to scheme.
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