In Weeks 12-15 of the 2018 NFL season, San Francisco 49ers rookie receiver Dante Pettis caught 17 passes or 338 yards and four touchdowns. If you project those numbers over a full 16 games, it comes out to 68 receptions, 1,352 yards and 16 scores.
This type of production is significant because it’s something the 49ers haven’t seen at the position for the better part of the last 15 years. In fact, the Niners have only had a wide out reach 1,000 yards three times since 2003. To put that into perspective, 17 receivers gained 1,000 yards or more in 2018 alone. Moreover, San Francisco was the only team last year to not have a receiver accumulate at least 500 yards, and one of only two teams to not have one with at least 45 receptions.
While you can argue Pettis’ sample size is too small to make a definitive determination on him either way, his late season surge provided enough signs to think the futility could be a thing of the past.
Per Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a passer rating of 139.5 when targeting Pettis over the final seven weeks of the season, which was the 6th best for receivers with at least 20 targets. He also showed big play ability, averaging 19 yards or more per catch in four of the eight games he caught a pass, and 17.3 overall.
As far as touchdowns go, Pettis’ season total of five may not jump out at you, but it’s the most any San Francisco receiver has had since Anquan Boldin in 2014. Pettis caught those five on just 45 targets, while Boldin’s number came on 130 total attempts his way.
If there’s one concern with Pettis moving forward, it’s his ability to stay on the field. He was bothered by a knee injury early on that limited his playing time through the first 10 games, and resulted in him only seeing eight targets during that time. Then, in Week 16, he suffered an MCL sprain that officially ended his season. In the end, Pettis officially played 12 games.
Also factoring into Pettis’ future is his rapport with a returning Jimmy Garoppolo as the two didn’t get much time together prior to the quarterback’s injury. Pettis caught three passes for 96 yards and a score in Garoppolo’s three games.
Understandably, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan made receiver a priority in this years draft, selecting Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd early on. While both of those rookies have a chance to contribute immediately, their presence shouldn’t effect Pettis, who appears to be locked into one of the starting roles.
Pettis’ development will continue to be something to watch, as he no doubt will be a focal point of Shanahan’s offense this season and for years to come.