Before Deebo Samuel showed up and had instant success, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan had been criticized for not being able to evaluate talent at wide receiver, which, in my opinion, could not be further from the truth.
In 2017, the 49ers drafted Trent Taylor in the fifth round and signed undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington, Kendrick Bourne who both have been productive relative to when they were acquired. On top of averaging 27.5 yards per catch, on only 6 receptions, Richie James has been the team's primary return man. Deebo Samuel had an excellent rookie season totaling just short of 1,000 scrimmage yards. And then there is Dante Pettis.
In the second round of the 2018 draft, the 49ers traded up to get Dante Pettis. Pettis was known as the nation's best punt return man but there was much more to his game than just that. He possesses this unique ability to run routes. A trait he put on display while lining up on the outside and in the slot. One of the main skills Shanahan covets is the ability to separate. That just happens to be Pettis' best attribute.
Pettis' ability to separate is not the issue. Somehow the former second-round pick has found himself in Kyle's dog house. I was there for the 2019 training camp where the 49ers force-fed Pettis the ball. I don't know if it was a chemistry thing with Jimmy Garoppolo, but Pettis and franchise quarterback were not on the same page.
I was on a podcast and said, "If I didn't know who was who, I would think Pettis was the sixth-best receiver in training camp." What happened? Where was the confident do-it-all receiver that accumulated 20 catches for 359 yards and 4 touchdowns over his last 5 games in 2018 before suffering an injury? That's including a breakout game up in Seattle against the rival Seahawks where Pettis had five catches for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. He showed it all: route running, run after the catch, and breakaway speed.
Where is that guy?
Week 3 of the 2019 season where Pettis caught five passes and a game-winning touchdown, it looked to be a breakout game. Pettis is back, right? Wrong. Against the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football, Pettis dropped a slant that looked to be a walk-in touchdown. Jimmy Garoppolo showed his displeasure.
After that game, he had five catches for the rest of the season including multiple games of being a healthy scratch or dressing but not seeing the field.
Pettis being in a funk has had a ripple effect on the entire roster. His inconsistent play last season forced the 49ers to trade multiple mid-round picks to the Denver Broncos to acquire veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Acquiring a receiver in the 2020 draft has been a focus of most mock draft gurus because nobody knows what to expect from Pettis.
Dante Pettis has all of the ability, but after being called out several times to the media by his head coach, time is ticking for him to get out of this funk and showcase the ability we all know he has.
Media courtesy USA Today Sports Images