Top returners in college football join 49ers competition


SANTA CLARA -- Trent Taylor, who ranked ninth in the NFL in punt returns last season as a 49ers rookie, will be challenged by the two best coming out of the college ranks.

Washington receiver Dante Pettis, a second-round draft pick of the 49ers, ranked No. 1 in college football with a 20.4-yard average. Cornerback D.J. Reed, whom the 49ers selected in the fifth round, was second at 14.9.

On Friday morning at the 49ers’ rookie minicamp they were fielding punts along with several other unsuspecting newcomers during the team’s walk-through practice.

“We were both laughing because people were like, ‘You guys return kicks?’ ” Reed said. “And we were like, ‘A little bit.’ ”

Pettis is college football’s all-time record holder with nine career punt returns for touchdowns. In Reed’s final season at Kansas State, he returned one punt and one kickoff for touchdowns.

“I felt we do different things,” Reed said. “He’s very elusive with the ball, and so am I. But I feel how I return is a little different.

“For me, I make a lot of guys miss. I’m very twitchy, very jukey. But, then again, I also have power and can run through people. He has a great asset to his game. He’s very elusive.”

Taylor, the 49ers’ starting slot receiver, had a strong rookie season on special teams with a 9.4-yard average on punt returns. Pettis said he is more concerned about establishing himself on offense.

“I kind of view myself as a receiver and not really a punt returner,” Pettis said. “Everything I aim for is receiver-wise and not really punt returner.”

Yet, there is not escaping the fact the 49ers view Pettis as a four-down player. He is capable of playing each of the wide receiver positions, as well as being a game-changer as a return man.

“My best attribute is my decision making and aggressiveness,” Pettis replied. “I try to catch everything. It will be a little bit of a transition. I will not be able to just run around people and I have to trust my blocking even more.”

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