Kyle Shanahan has a type. The 49ers coach wants a receiver that isn't stuck to one position on the field. That certainly was a selling point for the 49ers trading up and selecting Brandon Aiyuk in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The same goes for Dante Pettis in 2018.
Shanahan could turn on Pettis' University of Washington tape and picture using him on the outside or in the slot. Aiyuk brings the same kind of skills. They also both were successful returners in college, although Pettis was better and set an NCAA record with nine punt-return touchdowns.
Aiyuk had 98 receptions for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 17 yards per catch in his two seasons at ASU. Pettis, who spent four years in Washington, totaled 113 receptions for 1,583 receiving yards and 22 TDs over his junior and senior seasons.
And Aiyuk's peak was better with a less experienced QB. After being the No. 2 behind first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry as a junior, the former junior college product hauled in 65 receptions for 1,192 yards (18.3 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns as freshman Jayden Daniels' top target.
Pettis' senior season was his best as a returner, but his numbers as a receiver were down from his junior year. He went from 53/822/15 as a junior to 63/761/7 as a senior, both with an experienced Jake Browning under center.
The biggest difference between the two starts up top. Aiyuk has shown much more of a willingness to go across the middle and take on hits. Pettis, through his two years with the 49ers, has not.
"The thing that Kyle Shanahan likes about [Aiyuk] is the same thing that he liked about Dante Pettis," NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco said after the draft. "You can play him in all these different spots. You can play him outside the numbers, you can play him in the slot.
"The thing, though, about Aiyuk is he has this toughness and maybe a sense of urgency that Dante Pettis hasn't shown in his first two NFL seasons. And [Aiyuk] will take it over the middle. He's not afraid of getting hit."
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This surely was a big hit from Seattle Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald. It also highlights the main point with Pettis. You can see him look at the tackler before securing the pass and then he drops the ball.
The drop came on a third-and-14 and the 49ers were forced to punt on the next play in an eventual 27-24 overtime loss.
Aiyuk is different. It's clear he's less concerned with contact and wants to be the aggressor.
Explosive plays and the ability to break tackles are what really stand out to me in former Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk’s (@THE2ERA) film. Look forward to seeing if that can translate to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/nB724hmr6F— Jared Barsness NFL (@JaredBarsNFL) April 10, 2020
In his second NFL season, Pettis quickly fell out of favor with Shanahan. Plays like his drops against Seattle are a big reason why. It's mental more than anything for the former second-round pick.
With a jam-packed receivers room, it seems Pettis could already be the odd man out. But general manager John Lynch said the 49ers haven't given up on Pettis.
"I know a lot of people have soured on him, but we haven't," Lynch said one week ago on 95.7 The Game's "Joe, Lo and Dibs" show. "He didn't come to camp ready to play last year physically, and we challenged him. That's got to change.
"We believe, if he does, that he's a guy who can really excel in our offense."
Aiyuk hasn't had the chance to impress or disappoint Shanahan in person yet. His physical nature on tape says he'll be just fine.
If competition can rub off on Pettis the right way, the 49ers' offense will be even better. Pettis has the talent, but he just has to put it all together.