For the New Orleans Saints, the possible chance to upgrade not just one but actually two positions on the team roster in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, would almost seem like a dream come true for team scouts and the franchise's front office brass.
But when a player with the rare talent and ability possessed by University of Washington wide receiver / punt returner Dante Pettis is available in a year such as this one, it's also a chance that the Saints might want to take should the opportunity present itself on Day 2 of the Draft in Arlington (suburban Dallas), Texas come late April.
The Saints could stand an upgrade at both the wide receiver position and in the kick return game this off-season, and perhaps no one player has the ability to fill both roles quite like the 21-year old, 6-foot-1, 185 pound Pettis did throughout his brilliant college career for the storied Huskies football program.
One of the best punt returners in college football history, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller says that Pettis will make an early impact in the NFL. Not only can Pettis change the game on punt returns, but Millers notes the fact that he's a good wide receiver, to boot.
Pettis has the size to line up outside but is an ideal slot receiver because of his speed and quickness coming off the blocks. He looks like he could be a solid complementary / #2 receiver in the NFL, which would appeal to the Saints as they look for another player at the position to put with soon-to-be 3rd year player, #1 WR, and emerging "superstar" Michael Thomas.
Last season in 2017, Pettis caught 63 passes for 761 yards and scored seven touchdowns but his senior year was slowed by an ankle injury; which was the follow-up year to his ridiculously impressive junior season in 2016 when he was a virtual touchdown-making "machine". In 2016, Pettis caught 53 passes for 822 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, in 13 total games.
But that's probably not even his most impressive accomplishment.
What's likely more remarkable (and duly noted for many NFL scouts) is that Pettis owns the NCAA record for punt return touchdowns (9) — and he amazingly ran back a total of 4 punt return TD's in 2017.
Pettis averaged a whopping 20.4 yards per punt return in his senior year (14.2 for his career). Breaking Football NFL Draft Analyst Brad Kelly says those incredible numbers were the result of Pettis being 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.
Bottom line: Pettis seems to have a knack for finding the end zone, and he definitely should become a beneficiary from more consistent QB play once he reaches the NFL level.
The biggest knock on Pettis is his lack of size. He's not an overwhelmingly "physical" presence (and definitely not as big as a Michael Thomas), and that is somewhat of a detriment in the eyes of most NFL scouts and front-office personnel members.
But the obvious talents in the receiving and kick return game pair well with his top-level blocking skills; which Pettis has flashed routinely during his rise to college stardom in the past 2 seasons after only a grand total of 2 touchdown receptions in his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2014 and 2015 (when he was a back-up WR on the Huskies depth chart behind current Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross).
Kelly notes that Pettis also possesses a special trait as a precise route-runner; and it stems from him being smooth in and out of breaks, which he then translates over to the return game. Kelly also adds that by using good vision, smooth running form and bouncy athleticism, Pettis is lethal at full speed.
Elite punt / kick returners are "game changers" in the National Football League — and Kelly says that without any doubts whatsoever, Dante Pettis has the ability and potential to be one of the all-time greats in that area.
The question for the Saints will be where Pettis will end up getting drafted and would he still be there in the 3rd Round; since they don't have a 2nd Round pick (which they traded away last year to select Alvin Kamara) and assuming of course that they wouldn't "reach" for Pettis at #27 overall in Round 1.
Depending on who you ask, Pettis is seen as a Top 50 player and a Top 10 WR in this year's class by a handful of analysts and scouts, but only as a mid-round pick by a few others.