Washington Huskies wide receiver Dante Pettis will find himself near the top of many draft boards this Spring. His ability at wide receiver will almost definitely get him drafted in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, but what may separate Pettis from the rest of the WR pack is his ability on special teams.

Pettis is the all-time FBS career leader in punt return touchdowns with nine, including four so far in 2017. NFL teams covet four down players because special teams play can dictate who wins the field position battle. Pettis has the ability to swing that battle in his team’s favor in an instant, or to take one the distance and put up points in a flash. His athleticism allows him to break games open and swing momentum in his team’s favor, while his consistency in the return game constantly puts Washington is favorable spots on the field.

College GameDay analyst Desmond Howard has spoken about how it should be a punt returner’s goal to “pick up a first down,” meaning to average 10 yards per return. However, the average punt return in college football is under 7 yards. Pettis blows that figure out  of the water with 20.5 yards per return, about 14 extra yards per return than the mean. This contributes to the Huskies ability to win the starting field position battle.

According to Football Study Hall, in the 2013 college football season, the team that won the field position battle won 72% of their games. In order to consistently win that battle, a punt returner with the skills of Pettis is an invaluable asset.

Dante Pettis is explosive. How explosive, you ask? To answer that, you may have to go back to when he was a high school track star at JSerra Catholic in California. As a senior, Pettis posted a 24 foot 8 inch long jump, the 8th best mark in the United States that year (Tennessee Titans Rookie Adoree Jackson posted the fourth best Long Jump mark in the USA that year).

The long jump is a great test of explosiveness because it is a blend of your acceleration, top end speed, and leaping ability. Also, at the yearly Husky Combine held for Washington underclassmen, Pettis has posted a 10’8 ¾” broad jump, which would be in approximately the 90th percentile among NFL wide receivers. These displays of explosiveness highlights Pettis’ ability to “shoot out of a cannon” and go from 0 to 60 in an instant.

Pettis is well coached in the return game, as he is always trying to work towards the middle of the field and get vertical. Getting inside the hashes allows for the possibility of cutting back or continuing across the field because it gives the returner room to run on both sides. While at full speed, he shows elite change of direction and the ability to cut on a dime.

Against Rutgers, he breaks a tackle before reversing field and getting towards the sideline. Pettis’ straight line speed on this rep crushes the Rutgers coverage team as he outruns three would-be tacklers. Due to his track background, Pettis runs with optimal knee drive and with long strides when he is able to open up, and that is showcased as he leaves Rutgers defenders in the dust.

As a route runner, Dante Pettis is special when it comes to deception in his stems and being smooth in and out of breaks, and he translates those traits over to the return game. Against Montana, Pettis shows off his speed when he runs laterally and ruins the angles of some would-be tacklers. As he cuts backs to the middle of the field he’s scanning for potential tacklers. He shows off his elusiveness by flipping his hips to avoid the punter’s tackle before putting his elite acceleration on display to get into the endzone.

In the following game versus Fresno State, Pettis catches the punt along the sideline before getting vertical and towards the middle of the field. He shows off his open field vision by continuing across the field. He is slippery because of his incredible balance and avoids multiple low tackles around his feet. He has so much deception with how flexible his hips are, as he is always setting up tacklers without breaking his long strides. This allows Pettis to make defenders hesitate before he bursts by them, as well as set up his blockers down the field.

Pettis set the all-time punt return record against Oregon, as he stayed true to form in getting towards the middle of the field on his return. He avoids two tacklers with his balance, driving his knees up and even getting air while cutting. Pettis is able to cut towards his right off of his right foot, while bringing his left leg backwards to avoid a tackler while barely breaking his stride in an incredible display of balance. He glides while running along the sideline to the endzone while easily outrunning the coverage team.

Dante Pettis uses these traits while playing wide receiver, contributing to his highly productive junior and senior seasons. However, his ability as a ball carrier is at it’s best when he is returning and has the open space to operate. Using good vision, smooth running form and bouncy athleticism, he is lethal at full speed. Elite returners are game changers in the National Football League, and Pettis has the ability and potential to be an all time great in that area.

About The Author Brad Kelly

Brad is in his second year as the wide receivers and defensive ends Coach at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the same high school in which he attended. He also coaches indoor and outdoor track & field, specializing the sprinters and jumpers. Brad attended Salve Regina University where he played football and rugby, splitting time between wide receiver and tight end. He graduated college in 2015 with a degree in Criminal Justice and is currently working towards his Masters.