49ers’ Star Rookie Suffers Leg Injury As ‘Forgotten’ WR Excels

GETTY Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with Marquise Goodwin #11 after scoring on a one-yard catch against the Denver Broncos during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 9, 2018 in Santa Clara, California.

Equilibrium says that when one thing goes out, another thing has to come in. The same goes for the San Francisco 49ers.

And with the flurry of injuries the team has suffered over the past couple weeks, there’s been an emphasized need on players to step up and for the 49ers to add potential contributors.

The latest in those injuries has come via rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk’s hamstring, which caused the Arizona State product to pull up and end his Sunday practice early.

There’s not really any “good” part of Aiyuk’s injury, but there is added context and silver linings that has made the news somewhat easier to swallow: the return of Dante Pettis.

Aiyuk and Pettis are distinctly different receivers, but with similar ceilings. While Aiyuk will likely be held back and kept safe until the start of the season, the latest news is just another reason why Pettis is continuing to rise up the ranks.

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Pettis’ Background, Recent Statements

To say Pettis’ NFL career has been disappointing in his first couple pro seasons would be accurate.

In his rookie year out of Washington, Pettis did alright on a struggling team. 467 receiving yards and five touchdowns could hardly be considered a “breakout season,” but it was acceptable as the 6’1″ receiver got his bearings.

But Pettis wasn’t able to follow up, all but being forgotten in 2019 with just four starts, 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

After Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel’s success last season, it even appeared as if Pettis could be cut ahead of the 2020 season. However, being listed as a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl “woke up” the receiver and it’s been uphill since.

“There’s not too many things worse than that,” Pettis said to 49ers media members. “Football-wise, that could get you going — being inactive for the Super Bowl. That was kind of like the final straw, you could say.

“If that doesn’t change the way someone approaches the offseason, they don’t really want to be in the NFL.”

If Pettis is motivated and impressing in practice as reports have said, than it’s only good news for the 49ers.

Pettis’ Role in 2020

Pettis making progress in training camp couldn’t come at a better time. While the team did add receivers like Tavon Austin, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, Pettis has much more upside and is also further embedded in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense than that trio.

What’s important to remember, though, is that Pettis doesn’t offer what the injured Aiyuk and Samuel offer. He’s explosive, but the quickness and deep-threat nature of his teammates is not quite what the former Husky excels in.

Instead, he’s closer to Bourne. That’s not to say that he can’t provide big plays and serious contribution for the 49ers in the 2020 season, but it’ll be interesting to see how Shanahan will look to use him in this current form of the offense.

After an offseason in which many predicted the receiver to get cut, Pettis is now in prime position to secure an important receiver role as the team’s No. 4 when needed, or No. 5 when everyone is healthy.

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Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.