Reception Perception: Dante Pettis & the Eye of the Beholder
Evaluating football players is not an exact science. You can structure your process, test similar conditions and explore variables in a controlled fashion over a large sample and not always arrive at the same conclusion every time. Perhaps more significant, several observers can evaluate a player using a similar method or peruse the same and come away with differing conclusions. Maybe that reality hints at the futility of all this. Essentially, player evaluation and its application are in the eye of the beholder. Two analysts you trust might present different conclusions on a prospect’s projection simply because they value skills to different degrees. It makes following the draft process quite difficult and underscores why no one’s word is infallible.
Much of this came to mind when I saw how some of my peers viewed Dante Pettis. I’ve noticed some film scouts really take a liking to his game. His Reception Perception profile didn’t carry that same optimism.
Alignment & Target Data
Games sampled: Rutgers, Fresno State, Oregon State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah
Dante Pettis was someone who got experience playing multiple wide receiver positions in college, perhaps the most appealing part of his Reception Perception profile. Pettis lined up in the slot on 11.6 percent of his snaps over the six games sampled for Reception Perception. He spent the rest of plays outside, with the majority (48.9 percent) coming on the right side. Pettis lined up off the line of scrimmage on 57.4 percent of his snaps, showing that he played both split end and flanker.
Pettis was the engine of the Washington passing offense. He drew a target on 32.2 percent of his sampled routes and was overall efficient with his chances. However, he wasn’t immune to mistakes. Pettis’ 10.2 percent drop rate was the second-highest among the prospects charted this year. Only Equanimeous St. Brown’s rate was higher.
Drops by themselves aren’t an issue. They’re such small isolated instances that it’s more about what can you add on all the other plays. St. Brown’s Reception Perception profile offered layers of obvious answers. On the other hand, Pettis’ results didn’t make it so clear.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
In several conversations with wide receiver prospects and current NFL defensive backs, one theme kept coming up as the key to being a great route-runner: consistency. The players who are strong route-runners and therefore the toughest players to cover are the ones who execute the same way over and over again. It’s nice to flash fancy technique every now and again, but the great ones consistently execute on every single pattern.
It’s why I so strongly believe in the value of player charting. Logging what happens on a route-to-route basis is how you find the great receivers who run routes that way and go beyond those who just splash. Dante Pettis’ Reception Perception data seems to place him in the latter category.
Pettis posted slightly below average success rates against man (65.7 percent) and zone coverage (76 percent), testing out at the 40th and 48th percentile, respectively. His worst marks came against press, where he posted a success rate (57.9 percent) below the 33rd percentile among prospects charted over the last three classes.
The success rate vs. coverage scores does not paint the picture of an outside wide receiver at the NFL level. Perhaps Pettis could operate in the same role that players like Cooper Kupp and JuJu Smith-Schuster did as big slot receivers in their rookie season. Both of those receivers tested out slightly better than Pettis in some areas, but all three had similar results. If he’s asked to play a different role, there are reasons to be concerned.
As a player who tried his hand at all three receiver positions, Pettis also has experience running a variety of different routes. He operated at the intermediate level of the field more than most receivers.
Petts ran the dig (11.2 percent) and out route (14.5 percent) at rates above of prospect average. He ran a higher percentage of out routes than any other receiver charted for this year’s draft.
It was interesting to see Pettis get so little use on deep routes. Less than six percent of his charted routes registered as a post or curl and he ran fewer nine routes than most of his collegiate peers.
The lack of strong success rates across the route tree, aside from the deep routes he ran so infrequently, doesn’t ease the concerns with projecting Pettis as a consistent NFL starter. As mentioned earlier, perhaps a move to take about 60 to 70 percent of his snaps from the slot would help his projection as a pro route-runner. It’s hard to see him thriving in the same role he held at Washington on a route-to-route basis.
Pettis does deserve credit for turning in an elite success rate on out routes (86.4 percent), the pattern he ran at an unusually high rate. This is a receiver that’s clearly comfortable working the boundary and operating near the sideline. You certainly see instances where he cuts his route at the proper break-point to rifle through a hole in zone coverage.
While Pettis didn’t shine in the series’ main metrics that measure route-running, some of the ancillary metrics in Reception Perception cast a favorable light. Pettis didn’t play with a quarterback willing to aggressively throw into tight coverage but the receiver showed well when given those chances. Just 14.3 percent of his sampled targets registered as a contested catch attempt but he hauled in 71.4 percent of them. Pettis certainly adjusts well to the ball in flight and will come down with difficult catches. It’s likely these plays are what attracts his fans to the receiver’s game.
In addition to strong work in contested situations, Pettis was solid after the catch. He made at least one defender miss on 42.9 percent of his in-space attempts. His skills in these two areas could be enough for him to land a role as a rotational contributor to a passing game.
When laying out all the sections of Dante Pettis’ Reception Perception evaluation, there are positive areas to hang your hat on. He flashes an ability to adjust to passes in the air, make plays after the catch and work to the ball on a handful of routes. You can see why some evaluators who place a great deal of importance on these flashing moments like him. It’s not out to the question Pettis finds some time in the sun contributing to an NFL receiver rotation down the line.
With all that said, I do what I do with the Reception Perception methodology just for cases like this. The process is designed to highlight the players who consistently execute on a route-to-route basis and hold my own flawed eyes accountable. It’s clear what that does to Pettis’ evaluation.
Reception Perception isn’t meant to be a tool that hands out pass/fail designations. Itâs meant to help categorize players and highlight where they might fit and excel. Pettis might just find a role as a complementary receiver at the next level. Yet, there were just so many other players in this class that fit that archetype who tested out as quantifiably superior route-runners and technicians in Reception Perception. While it’s just my view, I’m willing to bet more chips on those players.
If you’re interested in more Reception Perception analysis, make sure to visit our Reception Perception pages for college prospect evaluations and pre-order The Ultimate Draft Kit at the early bird price for access to 50 NFL players’ full data this summer. You can keep up with all of the work using the #ReceptionPerception hashtag on Twitter.