SANTA CLARA — Dante Pettis‘ unique style of movement is what drew coach Kyle Shanahan to the wide receiver prior to the draft. As the 49ers rookie wide receiver progresses, his potential is being seen.
“If you just watch how Pettis moves,” Shanahan said. “I think he has pretty freakish body movement. The way he glides, he almost euro-steps as he runs routes and stuff and that’s talent.”
Shanahan mentioned that while Pettis' speed might not stand out like Marquise Goodwin or his size and explosiveness like Julio Jones, the characteristics of his movement make him valuable.
“Pettis is pretty unique in how he moves,” Shanahan said, “and how coordinated he can control his body in some awkward positions. That’s why I think he’s been such a good punt returner. He’s got the hands too.”
The evaluation of college receivers entering the draft isn’t the easiest Shanahan explained. College receivers rarely play through getting held or against man-to-man coverage. That leads to uncertainty about their transition into the NFL.
The film on Pettis that was so intriguing for Shanahan and the 49ers staff to see was on his returns. Pettis holds the NCAA record for punt returns for a touchdown with nine.
“Sometimes you’ve got to watch a guy like Pettis on a punt return,” Shanahan said, “and be like, ‘He doesn’t do this move on any of his routes, but look what he does when a guy’s right in front of him and he has the ball in his hand and he can double a guy up and make him miss.
“And that’s exactly what he should do on his routes.’ So, you know his body is capable of doing it. Can you coach him? Will it transfer over? Then you look at all of the other stuff, coachability, test scores, how great they want to be.”
The more Shanahan has been around Pettis, the more his intangibles have come out. Will they be able to get separation? How are their hands? Will they be able to handle going across the middle without dropping the ball?
"He’s also shown to us that he can be tough too. He’ll go in there and crack on guys. He doesn’t just turn stuff down," Shanahan said. "He can get more consistent on that, but he’s shown he has all of the tools to be a very good receiver. We’ll see how high that ceiling goes to.”
Pettis’ learning curve was slightly stunted when he missed a few weeks after sustaining a knee injury in a punt return in Week 4. Over 11 games he has caught 24 of his 40 targets for 446 yards and five touchdowns, giving him a 18.6 average yards per reception.
Shanahan is expecting continued progress from Pettis over the remaining two games and heading into next season, and certainly likes his development.
“It’s very encouraging,” Shanahan said. “I’ll definitely make a point that he hasn’t found his way fully yet. He’s still got to keep going. But Pettis, he’s has had the ability to do it since he got here and that’s why we were excited to get him.
“He’s going to come back next year better or worse, and it better be better.”