With the San Francisco 49ers‘ rookie mini-camp officially in the books, fans and media members have begun to sort through the performances of each participant to see if any players stood out or didn’t quite come as advertised. Writing about the two-day camp for All 49ers FN, one of the players who stood out in a positive way for Grant Cohn was Ronnie Bell, the 49ers’ penultimate selection in the 2023 NFL draft.
Though Bell looked small in the opinion of Cohn, his willingness to put his body on the line in order to catch balls in coverage was impressive, especially when players like Dante Pettis won’t do so during his camp back in 2018.
“I initially put him in the not-so-good section, simply because of the way he’s built,” Cohn wrote. “He looks like a college player. But in the final period, he made two deep catches while heavily covered. First, he ran a post route, and then he ran a fade. Both times, he made circus catches. He clearly has excellent hand-eye coordination and no fear, which separates him from Dante Pettis, who alligator-armed a pass over the middle during rookie mini-camp in 2018. That was a bad sign for Pettis. Bell passed his first test.”
Initially selected with the 44th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, a pick the 49ers traded up to acquire, no less, Pettis rapidly fell out of favor with San Francisco after showing up out of shape heading into the 2019 season and was released on November 3rd after failing to land a trade. Though Pettis has since rebounded as a member of the Bears, he bounced around the NFL before finding a home in Chicago; a path Bell certainly doesn’t want to follow.
Dante Pettis Discusses the Challenge of NFL Second Chances
Speaking with Josh Schrock of NBC Sports Chicago about his path from San Francisco to New York, and ultimately the Windy City, Pettis noted the struggles he had early in his career and how the path to long-term NFL success grows increasingly challenging with each passing year.
“I think every young football player, as they go through their seasons, learns a lot,” Pettis told NBC Sports Chicago. “I think my lessons were, I don’t want to say harder than anybody else’s, but it was just a different situation than most people’s journeys. So, it did teach me a lot. Not that I didn’t take football serious or anything, it’s just a different approach to it.
“Opportunities are not as easy to come by once you’re out of that first two years. Those first two years, I feel like teams are a lot more lenient with players. They give their young players those opportunities and stuff. As the years go on, especially if you’re not one of those proven vets, you’re opportunities get smaller and smaller. So just being able to take advantage of those, being ready for every opportunity that’s thrown at you.”
After amassing fewer yards and touchdowns from 2019-21 than in his rookie season alone – 272 yards and four touchdowns versus 467 yards and five touchdowns – Pettis rebounded in a big way during his first season in Chicago, catching 19 balls for 245 yards and three touchdowns as one of Justin Fields’ go-to targets. Though his role on the team in 2023 is far less clear, with Chase Claypool, DJ Moore, and Tyler Scott all added to the team over the past year, Pettis has another chance to make an NFL roster, which is an incredible opportunity, all things considered.
Ronnie Bell Embraces the 49ers’ Coaching
Asked about Kyle Shanahan’s reputation for being hard on wide receivers after being selected by the team with the 253rd overall selection in the 2023 NFL draft, Bell noted that he’s used to tough coaching and embraces the opportunity to get better.
“I feel like my whole life I’ve always had tough coaching, hard coaching on me, so that’s something honestly I’m excited about and something I feel like I’m most used to,” Bell said via 49ers WebZone. “Yeah, as far as the offense and everything, I’m just again, just once I get my hands on a playbook and start to put things together, I’m just really excited for that whole process.”
Though Bell is far from a guarantee to become a contributor for the 49ers, as there hasn’t been a wide receiver who caught more than 40 passes in a season that was drafted at or after pick 253 since Auden Tate in 2019, the Michigan product’s willingness to work hard should serve him well in the pros.