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Dante’s Inferno: Can Pettis Reignite His 49ers Career?

Gilbert Brink
Aug 21, 2020 at 7:38 AM


For some, failure fuels the fire. 49ers WR Dante Pettis has been accustomed to failure as of late. Dennis Waitley once said, "Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end."

49ers WR Dante Pettis has become accustomed to failure as of late. Though Pettis' team was incredibly successful in 2019, Pettis' contributions towards that success were mostly unnoticeable. Once a highly touted 2nd-round draft pick, Pettis found himself slotted to be a starting WR for the 49ers heading into the 2019 season. Rewind the clock to August 2019 and the seeds of doubt began to settle around Pettis during training camp. Arriving to camp out of shape and struggling to make an impact, Pettis' poor preseason performance seemed to confirm some of the speculation surrounding his commitment to football. As the season progressed, even working in an inexperienced WR room, Pettis found himself quickly sliding down the depth chart. On October 22nd, 2019 the 49ers traded two draft picks to Denver for veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders. This move signified head coach Kyle Shanahan's loss of hope for Pettis in 2019. "He's had his opportunities. The more he doesn't take advantage of his opportunities, the less he opportunities he gets," said Shanahan. Pettis caught his final pass of 2019 just 9 days later on October 31st, leaving his 2019 total at 11 catches for 109 yards and 2 TDs.

As poor as Pettis performed in 2019, that year represents half of his NFL career. The other half of his career consisted of a very promising 2018 rookie season. In his initial season, Pettis recorded a 68.5 grade according to Pro Football Focus, over 12 points higher than his 2019 grade of 56.4. Appearing in 12 games, Pettis caught 27 passes for 467 yards and 5 TDs that year, flashing moments of brilliance while adapting to 3 different quarterbacks passing him the ball (Garoppolo 3 starts, Beathard 5 starts, Mullens 8 starts). A 4-game stretch late in the season in which Pettis tallied 17 receptions for 338 yards and 4 touchdowns (11/25/18-12/16/8) was the brightest spot of his 49ers career. Pettis exhibited a distinct ability to separate from defensive backs with quick footwork and legitimate route running ability. Hopes were high for Pettis towards the end of 2018 and Forbes.com cited Pettis as one of the lone bright spots of what felt like a lost 2018 season.

Fast forward to today, August 21st 2020. The last game the San Francisco 49ers played was Super Bowl 54. Pettis played the role of starting sideline cheerleader for that game. As the 49ers took the field to face the Chiefs in the biggest sporting event in American culture, Pettis was deactivated by head coach Kyle Shanahan as the head coach opted instead for practice squad RB Jeff Wilson Jr. Pettis was deemed unnecessary, expendable and irrelevant. The opportunity that all NFL players strive to possess, that chance to play in the Super Bowl was at Pettis' doorstep, and he was told to grab a track suit and enjoy the show. The 49ers failed to win that Super Bowl, and Pettis failed to earn the opportunity to help his team in the biggest moment of his career.

Weeks after the Super Bowl failure, Shanahan issued a challenge to Pettis. "I want to see that while he's away, he's been on a mission... He took a documented step back in the second year, which I've been around a lot of players who have done that...The players I've been around, which has been a ton, they go one way or the other: they keep being like that and usually filter out, or it's a wake-up call for them. They come back, and you can see it in April, that 'this guy treated January to April so much different than the year before,' and it usually changes their career," said Shanahan. The 49ers are down 3 wide receivers due to injury this offseason (Deebo Samuel foot injury, Jalen Hurd torn ACL, Richie James wrist injury) and reports out of training camp express that perhaps Pettis has answered the challenge set down by his head coach.

Pettis sought out Shanahan early in camp and attempted to begin anew. The often critical coach even had some praise for his once maligned wide receiver. "You could just tell, looking at him, that he had put the work in, in the weight room. The way he was talking, you could tell he was a lot more confident, and he was ready to show us that he had put in the work...and as soon as we got out there (on the practice field), you could see, just the way he was coming off the ball, getting in and out of his cuts, just his mentality that I think started with work, and you could see it go over to the field," said Shanahan.

It wasn't only Shanahan who lost faith in Pettis in 2019, as star QB Jimmy Garoppolo abandoned the unreliable receiver and targeted the other receivers as 2019 progressed. It may be just camp chatter, but Garoppolo too has recently expressed positive impressions of 2020 Dante Pettis "It's very encouraging, just the physicality that he's playing with, the competitiveness that he's bringing. You love to see that," Garoppolo told reporters. A renewed trust between Garoppolo and Pettis could result in more targets and more opportunities for Pettis to exhibit his unique skill set.

With WRs Deebo Samuel nursing a sensitive lisfranc foot injury, Jalen Hurd sidelined for the season and a host of other newcomers (Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Tavon Austin, Jauan Jennings) just trying to learn the system, Pettis will have the opportunity to make his impression on this offense early in the 2020 season. If he can click with Garoppolo, and earn back the trust of Kyle Shanahan, Pettis may just be able to regain his 2018 form and show the world why the 49ers fell in love with him in the first place. The opportunity is there, and that is all an athlete can ever ask for.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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