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Dante Pettis - Rookie Recap / Dynasty Outlook

Here at RotoBaller, we're looking back at the seasons from some of the league's under-the-radar rookies and discussing their future in dynasty leagues. Today, I'm looking at 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis.

Pettis entered his rookie season third on the 49ers depth chart, but injuries and other issues helped him rise to the top of the team's pecking order before another knee issue ended his season early. Pettis should be one of Jimmy Garoppolo's go-to weapons during the 2019 season.

Let's take a look at some of Pettis's numbers from his rookie year, at how the other options in San Francisco affect his role next year, and at what we can expect from him in terms of fantasy production moving forward.

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Team: San Francisco 49ers
College: Washington
Height/Weight: 6'1'', 195 lbs
2018 NFL Draft: Round 2, 44th overall


Dante Pettis's Rookie Campaign

I did a film study of Pettis after Week 13 if you want a more in-depth look at Pettis's background, but here are a few thoughts on his rookie campaign:

Pettis finished the 2018 season with 27 catches for 467 yards and five touchdowns, with the majority of that production coming over a four-game stretch later in the season, with Pettis accounting for 17 receptions, 338 yards, and four touchdowns over that stretch. Pettis had a snap share of over 90 percent in three of those four games, and it dropped to just 84.7 percent in the other one. His other strong game of the year, when he caught two passes for 61 yards and a score, came in Week 1, when he was on the field for 72.7 percent of San Francisco's snaps.

What's that all mean? With one exception (Week 2), Pettis produced consistently when he saw the field consistently, and he produced strong numbers on a per play basis. Per PlayerProfilerPettis ranked fifth among receivers in yards per reception, ninth in yards per target, first in target separation, and seventh in fantasy points per target. Pettis showed the speed and the ability to get separation from the defense that you need to see from a good NFL receiver. We can question how sustainable that is moving forward, but for now the tape we have on Pettis suggests that he has the upside of being a very good player.

There's also the fact that Pettis did this all with Nick Mullens at quarterback. I have nothing against Mullens, who put up some gutsy efforts, but he isn't the right quarterback for Pettis. Mullens ranked just 25th in deep ball completion percentage at 31.6 percent. Jimmy Garoppolo was completing half of his deep throws before his season-ending injury. If those two can hook up deep next year? Ooh, ooh, ooh!

Also, because this seems like the best place in this article to do this, I'd like you to go back and watch Pettis on this long touchdown reception:

Does a good job in his route here to get open, and then has the foot speed to get past the defenders and head for pay dirt.


San Francisco's Other Weapons

The 49ers released one of the big barriers to Pettis excelling next year when they moved on from Pierre Garcon earlier this month, which means Pettis only has two big names to beat out for targets and playing time: wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and tight end George Kittle.

Let's start with Goodwin. He's one of the NFL's fastest players (as in, ranked in the 100th percentile among receivers in the 40-yard dash) and in 11 games last season he showcased that by finishing sixth in yards per reception and was fifth in average target separation. In 2017, he was fifth in the NFL in air yards -- quarterbacks know that throwing deep to Goodwin is a great way to make something happen. If Goodwin can re-establish himself as the team's deep threat, there should be room left underneath for Pettis to make plays, but he could limit how often Pettis is looked at deep down the field.

Meanwhile, Kittle established himself as one of the NFL's top tight ends last year. He finished 14th in the NFL in receptions, 15th in targets, and eighth in yards, but his five touchdowns left him in a tie for 40th (with Pettis!). There's some disconnect there between how Kittle was used on the field versus how he was used specifically in the red zone. Of his 136 targets, just 18 (13.2 percent) came inside the 20 and six (4.4 percent) inside the 10. For comparison, two tight ends received more targets than Kittle: Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. Ertz was targeted 156 times, with 27 (17.3 percent) of them coming inside the 20 and eight (5.1 percent) of them inside the 10. Kelce was targeted 150 times, with 24 (16 percent) inside the 20 and 11 (7.3 percent) inside the 10. It's not a huge disparity, but Kittle does see a little more of his usage outside of the red zone than other tight ends, and that kind of usage could take a little away from Pettis.

The other name to remember is Kendrick Bourne, but I see Bourne as more of a number-three guy for the Niners. Bourne saw a target share of over 90 percent three times, but one of those games was when Pettis was still working his way back after a knee injury, and the other two came in the season's finale two games -- Pettis missed one of those and left early in the other. Bourne's an intriguing player who can do a lot in the short passing game, he's not really a big threat to Pettis.


The Fantasy Future

In my first run-through of my dynasty rankings for this year, I've got Pettis at 71 in my dynasty rankings. I haven't even thought about re-draft rankings, but I'd probably have him a little lower there.

Pettis showed a lot of promise this season, and I see him as San Francisco's top receiver down the line, but Goodwin's presence, for now, limits his immediate upside. As long as Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy and the 49ers are in a position to compete for a playoff bid, I see Goodwin having a sizable portion of the team's usage from the receiver position. Looking through coach Kyle Shanahan's coaching history over at FFStatistics, there's only been one season in which Shanahan, as either a head coach or an offensive coordinator, had his WR2 finish in the top 40 and just two in which they finished in the top 50. Shanahan has also rarely had a tight end that put up numbers even close to what Kittle did last season. There could be a lot of mouths to feed in 2019, and that caps some of what Pettis can do.

Still, the talent is there for Pettis, and he's got the ability to be a more versatile receiver than Goodwin is. It wouldn't shock me to see Pettis go into next season as the team's top receiver, and if that's the case then I can see him finishing as a top-30 fantasy receiver.

Also important from a dynasty point-of-view? He's just now entering his second year, and there's a lot of room for Pettis to grow. I love his long term fantasy potential and made sure to grab as many shares of Pettis as I could last season. His 2018 promise is a great sign of what his future production could look like.

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