SANTA CLARA – The 49ers may have drafted Reuben Foster’s replacement Friday night.
But first, they drafted a punt returner. Because some things are just more important.
The returner’s name is Dante Pettis, and he’s from Washington. To get him, the 49ers traded the 59th pick (No.27 in Round 2) and the 74th pick (No.10 in Round 3) to the Washington Redskins in exchange for the 44th pick (No.12 Round 2).
Expensive punt returner.
Pettis isn’t just a returner, though. He’s wide receiver, too. In 2016, he caught 53 passes for 822 yards and 15 touchdowns. And in 2017, he caught 63 passes for 761 yards and 7 touchdowns.
But, Pettis may not play much wide receiver for the 49ers, at least not initially. The 49ers already have two starting wide receivers – Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin. And they have a primary slot receiver – Trent Taylor. Pettis could be strictly a special teamer as a rookie.
“We’re happy with our group (of receivers),” Kyle Shanahan said Friday. “We had a lot of good players in our group before we got Pettis. They have different traits. We can use them all differently.
“We think Pettis does a little bit of everything. We can use him sometimes similar to how we use Marquise (Goodwin) if need be. We can use him inside, similar to how we use Trent (Taylor) if need be. He’s got the hands and the toughness, so we can use him similar to Pierre (Garcon).
“In the meantime, I think he’s going to be a very good punt returner. This guy can help you on all four downs – not just first or second or third down. Also special teams.”
Pettis holds the NCAA record for most career punt-return touchdowns – he had nine. And he averaged a whopping 20.4 yards per punt return in 2017.
“I’m a punt returner,” Pettis said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “I would like to continue doing that. And if I need to be a kick returner, too, I’m open to that.”
Pettis is the brother of former NFL wide receiver Austin Pettis, and the son of former Major League centerfielder Gary Pettis, who played 11 seasons and won five Gold Glove Awards. Pettis The Elder currently is the third-base coach for the Houston Astros.
“I haven’t talked to him yet,” said Pettis The Younger. “(The Astros) actually have a game right now. They just started about 20 minutes ago. Hopefully he’ll come in during one of the innings and, you know, call me.”
Twenty-six picks after taking Pettis, the 49ers drafted linebacker Fred Warner from BYU. Drafted him with the 70th pick (No.6 in Round 3).
Warner mostly played outside linebacker in college, but the 49ers may change his position. “I could play both (weak-side linebacker and middle linebacker) for sure,” Warner said on a conference call. “I think they talked about me playing MIKE (middle) a little more.”
Middle linebacker is Reuben Foster’s position — he was a first-round pick in 2017. But, he currently faces three felony charges. Even if beats all three, which is no certainty, the NFL still could suspend him for part or all of the 2018 season.