It’s hard to describe how influential wide receiver John Ross III was to the Washington Huskies’ offense last season.
Ross’ abilities—primarily his 4.22 speed—was something defenses had to take in account every snap and made life easier for the rest of the offense. Not only that, any concerns about Ross being able to be a well-rounded receiver was also put to rest as he recorded one of the best pass catching seasons at Washington: 81 receptions, 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those statistics made Ross an All-American plus a likely first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
With Ross now gone, Washington’s receiving corp has a massive hole in it. However, the Huskies have a suitable receiver to possibly replace Ross’ production.
Ross’ incredible season overshadowed the strides follow starting receiver Dante Pettis made as a junior.
During his first two seasons, Pettis was seen as a pass catcher with great potential. The 6-foot-1 receiver had a combined 47 catches between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but only two receiving touchdowns. Not only that, but there were questions surrounding Pettis on whether he had the ability to make the tough catches and be a committed blocking wide out.
“I think last year (2015) people would get kind of physical with him, and he’d have to work to get off that,” said quarterback Jake Browning to ESPN back on Dec. 20, 2016. “Now I think the confidence part—going into your third year of playing, he played a lot as a true freshman and then last year as a sophomore—just taking the next step. I think he has always worked hard, but you kind of get over that curve where you have these little things you need to work on.”
Pettis answered every question surrounding him in 2016. In fact, he proved to be just as valuable as Ross was to Washington’s offensive success. The San Clemente, California caught 53 passes for 822 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Not only that, but Pettis averaged more yards per reception than Ross—15.5 yards per catch compared to 14.2—and caught two fewer touchdowns than the projected first rounder despite having 28 fewer receptions.
Now that Ross has departed from Washington, Pettis will certainly replace him as the Huskies’ No. 1 target—he is the only receiver returning that recorded 30 or more catches last season for Washington. Since he will now be the featured receiver in the Huskies’ dynamic offense, Pettis could potentially outdo what his former teammate did last year during the 2017 season. Heck, he is already seen as the best returning receiver in the Pac-12.
Currently, the Huskies are limiting Browning’s practice time during spring ball as he is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. However, Pettis already has an established rapport with Browning.
While having an already stable connection with Browning will certainly help Pettis’ chances to surpass the type of statistics Ross put up last season, but the the now No. 1 target is nearly as athletic than the former No. 1 pass catcher for the Huskies is.
Pettis is currently a competitor on Washington’s track and field team. During the Huskies’ outdoor track meet at USC, the All-Pac 12 receiver posted a 23, 10-1/4 inches in the long jump. That was good for sixth overall at the competition.
With more targets, Pettis should easily top the 1,000-yard receiving mark and could potentially recorded 20 receiving touchdowns in 2017.
“He’s special,” Ross said to The Spokesman-Review back on Dec. 23, 2016. “Everything about him, his work ethic, just his mental game, everything that he’s been working for is showing up.”
Pettis certainly made the necessary improvements from his sophomore to his junior season to become a dynamic receiver for Washington. Expect him to make the same type of improvements from going from the No. 2 to the No. 1 receiver as a senior this season in Seattle.