Finding the Fits: Garoppolo-Pettis connection looks golden for 49ers

Pettis is expected to make an immediate impact for the 49ers© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

As a receiver and returner, rookie Dante Pettis looks ready to make a big splash in San Francisco

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

San Francisco's best fit: Dante Pettis, WR/PR, Washington, selected No. 44 overall (second round)

Given the upgrade in talent added to the roster in just a year and a half since being hired away from the color commentator booth, it seems almost laughable now how much skepticism there once was surrounding John Lynch as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.

Of course, acquiring a potential franchise quarterback (for a bargain basement price, no less) does wonders for one's reputation as a talent evaluator.

Lynch's trade for former New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo resulted in an immediate re-invigoration of a fan base used to star power at quarterback. The excitement about Garoppolo and his fit in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense then exploded over the final weeks of the 2017 regular season as the 49ers rattled off five consecutive wins to cap the campaign, a stark contrast to the 1-10 start it had under previous starting quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard.

Garoppolo's poise, accuracy and mobility were immediate and obvious upgrades, sparking the 49ers to impressive numbers on offense down the stretch, including an average of 28.8 points per game (fifth in the NFL) during his starts. His quick success is all the more intriguing given what little help he had at receiver.

Diminutive 5-foot-9, 180-pound Marquis Goodwin (56 receptions for 962 yards) was the only pass-catcher with more than 515 receiving yards for the 49ers last season. Some of this, of course, was due to the season-ending neck injury to veteran Pierre Garcon, who was on pace for the third 1,000-yard season of his career (but notably did not score a single touchdown among his 40 receptions) prior to being placed on Injured Reserve a few days after the trade for Garoppolo.

Tight end Garrett Celek paced the team with four touchdown receptions. No one else on the team caught more than two.

Which brings us to Pettis, a flanker perfectly suited to Shanahan's scheme, who Lynch traded up 15 spots to acquire and has since rewarded that aggression by starring throughout the offseason, earning buzz from the media and 49ers.

"He adds a lot of versatility to our team," Shanahan said shortly after the 49ers drafted the record-breaking receiver and punt returner. "He's a guy who can help you out on all four downs."

"You can make guys miss with the ball in your hand, [then] you should be able to do that in routes, too," Shanahan said. "Combine that with the speed, and his hands, and his intelligence... you feel pretty confident he's going to continue to get better."

Unlike his former teammate at Washington and Cincinnati Bengals' 2017 first round pick John Ross, Pettis is quicker than he is fast. He uses polished route-running and exceptional agility to create consistent separation on the short and intermediate routes that are both critical to Shanahan's scheme and perfectly in line with the types of throws that Garoppolo has always excelled at, dating back to his college days at Eastern Illinois.

There are plenty of other reasons why Pettis is a good bet to finish among this year's most impactful rookies.

Chief among them is Pettis' experience playing against press (which he faced daily in practice at Washington), understanding of what it takes to be a professional athlete (his father, Gary, is the third base coach for the World Series defending Houston Astros) and, of course, the big play potential he offers as a punt returner, leaving the Huskies with an NCAA record nine returned for touchdowns over his career.

Finally, credit the 49ers for recognizing that as the NFL decreases the importance of kick returns due to new rules on player safety, finding true difference-makers in the punt return game has perhaps never been more important.

With some of the more storied QB-WR connections in NFL history, the 49ers know better than most that it takes a tandem. Between Garoppolo and Pettis (as well as Lynch and Shanahan), the 49ers may very well have struck gold.

Other thoughts on the 49ers' 2018 draft class:

Like Pettis (a pick criticized by some), the first-round selection of tackle Mike McGlinchey was considered a reach in some circles. I disagree.

Tackles -- at least ones being asked to play immediately -- generally require significant investments, something Shanahan learned early on. Consider that his first year as an offensive coordinator (in Houston), the Texans invested their first-round pick in Duane Brown, who has since gone to four Pro Bowls. Shanahan's first year working in Washington with his father, Mike, the Redskins nabbed Trent Williams (a six-time Pro Bowler) in the first round. Shanahan arrived in Atlanta one year after the Falcons dedicated their first pick to Jake Matthews, now a rock protecting Matt Ryan's blindside and likely a future Pro Bowler, himself.

Given that track record, I'm a little disappointed in myself for not predicting the 49ers' selection of McGlinchey, who has the size, strength and temperament of a long-time NFL starter. In my final mock, though, the plug and play tackle was no longer on the board at No. 9 overall...

If not for the fact that I believe Pettis could be one of the more impactful rookies (regardless of position) this season, third round pick Fred Warner certainly would have qualified as my favorite underrated fit from San Francisco's class. Warner's speed and physicality popped off the tape at BYU and when I scouted him in person at the Senior Bowl and I would not be surprised to see him challenge for a starting job at inside linebacker this season.

The 49ers already boast one of the league's more talented young inside linebackers in Rueben Foster but numerous alarming off-field incidents while with the 49ers and previously at Alabama make counting on him a gamble, at best. Veteran Brock Coyle is a heady player with underrated athleticism of his own but does not possess Warner's size or explosiveness, making this an interesting position battle to watch over the preseason.

Finally, leave it to the former All-Pro safety, Lynch, to recognize intriguing defensive backs in Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Moore, Marcell Harris and undrafted free agent Tarvarus McFadden. While Moore, a Combine snub, generated most of his pre-draft buzz at his March 29 Pro Day by clocking in at 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash, scouts who attended the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl left raving about the former Southern Mississippi free safety with some telling me then they felt he might be making the switch to cornerback, as the 49ers have done.

San Francisco's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. overall: Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

2nd Round, No. 44 overall: Dante Pettis, WR/PR, Washington

3rd Round, No. 70 overall: Fred Warner, LB, BYU

3rd Round, No. 95 overall: Tarvarius Moore, DB, Southern Mississippi

4th Round, No. 128 overall: Kentavius Street, DT, North Carolina State

5th Round, No. 142 overall: D.J. Reed, CB, Kansas State

6th Round, No. 184 overall: Marcell Harris, SS, Florida

7th Round, No. 223 overall: Jullian Taylor, DT, Temple

7th Round, No. 240 overall: Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

Emmanuel Moseley, CB, Tennessee

Coleman Shelton, OL, Washington




Frank Cooney


Rob Rang

NFL Draft Scout