With free agency calming down, we now return our attention to the 2018 NFL Draft. The Falcons’ signing of G Brandon Fusco has given them added flexibility—particularly on Day 2—which could lead to them spending an earlier pick on a position like WR. One of those potential options is the subject of today’s scouting report: Washington WR Dante Pettis.
I already had Pettis going to the Falcons in my most recent mock draft, and highlighted him in my Combine WR prospect preview. With fans seeming a bit confused about his ability, now seemed like the right time to give you a full report on the versatile receiver. Pettis has been one of the primary threats at Washington for the past two seasons, including a career-best 2016 that saw him post 53 receptions for 822 yards (15.5 avg) and a whopping 15 TDs. 2017 saw Pettis get a chance as the primary target, but his numbers couldn’t quite match: 63 receptions for 761 yards (12.1 avg) and 7 TDs.
To get the full picture of Pettis’ abilities, I watched him against Oregon, Utah, Stanford, and Penn State (Fiesta Bowl). Check out my scouting report below to read my overall thoughts on his strengths, weaknesses, and potential fit with the Falcons.
WR Dante Pettis, Washington
Polished and technically advanced receiver. Smooth and controlled route runner with an expansive route tree and tons of moves in his arsenal. Pettis is explosive in the short area of the field and reaches top speed quickly. Plus agility and change-of-direction skills—quick and shifty in space and has some juice to make defenders miss after the catch. Excellent hands with a good catch radius. Tracks the ball well down the field, can make plays in traffic, and can go up and get it.
Pettis offers a well-balanced skillset. He’s capable of contributing at all three levels—short, intermediate, and as a deep-threat. Versatile and can line up all over the formation, including outside, in the slot, or in the backfield on screens and reverses. Willing and physical blocker despite small stature. One of the best returners in college football and broke the NCAA record for most career punt return TDs with 9.
Pettis can struggle with press coverage and bigger, more physical CBs. Skilled defenders can disrupt his route early and get him off track. He could benefit from putting on some weight and being more physical at the line of scrimmage. Inability to do athletic testing thus far has led to some questions about long speed—tape shows a player that may be “quicker than fast”.
Lack of ideal size and low weight at the Combine has brought up durability concerns at the NFL level, although Pettis has had a relatively healthy college career thus far. Had a great 2016 season that saw him put up 15 TDs alongside first round pick John Ross, but he regressed a bit in 2017 with inconsistent production as the primary threat at Washington.
The Falcons are in need of a good WR3 with Taylor Gabriel exiting in free agency and a lot of question marks behind him on the depth chart. Justin Hardy is probably best served as the WR4, with Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis in competition for increased roles as rotational options this season. Adding a proven returner without spending in free agency would also be nice. Luckily, that prospect already exists in Washington’s Dante Pettis.
Pettis isn’t quite the athlete that Gabriel is, but he’s far more versatile. He’s polished and should have a relatively quick adjustment to the NFL, as his route tree and technical skill is already quite advanced. Pettis can line up anywhere and create separation at all levels of the defense, making him an ideal WR3 for an offense like the Falcons’. The fact that he’s one of the best returners in college football is just icing on the cake.
I don’t know that Pettis has the WR2 ceiling of someone like Tre’Quan Smith, but Pettis should be able to contribute early in his rookie season and still offers high-level WR3 ability. His versatility and special teams contributions make him valuable in many different ways even if he doesn’t quite offer the elite athletic ability of someone like Gabriel or the red-zone prowess of Smith. As a late Day 2 pick—most likely Atlanta’s third round selection—Pettis checks all the boxes and would instantly elevate the Falcons’ receiving corps.
Grade: 2.5 (late second, early third)
What would you think about the Falcons adding Dante Pettis in the 2018 NFL Draft? Is a late Day 2 pick ideal for addressing the need at WR, or do you view that as too high? Who are some other WR options that you have your eyes on for Atlanta?