The San Francisco 49ers added nine players to their roster in the 2018 NFL Draft. We break down the Niners’ draft, and discuss each pick’s expected role for the upcoming 2018 season and beyond.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were full of surprises during the 2018 NFL Draft. While the 49ers added a number of talented players at key positions, they avoided the team’s most immediate areas of need — edge rusher and interior offensive line.
Let’s take a look at the second of the San Francisco 49ers’ nine draft picks:
Round 2 – Pick #44: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
The 49ers traded up from pick No. 59 to pick No. 44 in order to select Washington Huskies wide receiver Dante Pettis. Similar to offensive tackle, this draft had a weak wide receiver class, and after the third receiver was selected at pick No. 40, Lynch and Shanahan felt the need to trade a third round pick for the opportunity to draft the Washington receiver and punt returner. San Francisco also received a fifth round pick in the deal.
Prior to the draft, Pettis was generally considered a middle-round talent, so it’s unclear why Lynch and Shanahan thought the receiver would be snatched up before their scheduled selection. Two wide receivers — Christian Kirk and Anthony Miller — were drafted between the two picks, but both receivers were expected to be earlier selections.
One trait Pettis holds over his fellow receivers is his ability as a punt returner; Pettis returned a record nine punts for touchdowns over his four-year college career. Pettis isn’t particularly elusive in the open field, and he’s not blazing fast like fellow Washington wide receiver John Ross, but he’s a smooth runner who is excellent at utilizing his blockers during returns:
Unfortunately, Pettis didn’t participate in drills in either the 2018 NFL Combine or Washington’s pro day due to an ankle injury, but he reportedly ran an official 4.48 40-yard-dash in his personal pro day a few weeks later.
Shanahan recently downplayed the value of a top receiver like Julio Jones, and his thinking is evident with this selection, as Pettis is more of a complimentary receiver than a traditional number-one receiver. Pettis scored 15 touchdowns in 2016 when defenses were focused on Ross, but his touchdown total dipped to seven when he was Washington’s top target in 2017.
At 6-foot-1 and 186 pounds, Pettis will need to add strength to compete off the line against press coverage, but his lack of size shouldn’t be overly concerning, as the receiver commonly demonstrated the toughness necessary to catch contested passes over the middle. As an excellent route runner, Pettis should have an immediate role as a complimentary receiver, and although he shouldn’t be expected to set any NFL punt-return records, he should be a positive addition to the 49ers’ return game.
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