In an NFL record 4.22 seconds, speedy Washington receiver John Ross stole the imagination of NFL scouts and draft fans alike during the 2017 Combine, ultimately earning the No. 9 overall selection of the draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Meanwhile, the most polished receiver and returner on the Huskies' roster that season - Pettis - was preparing for his senior campaign, when he would set the NCAA record for with nine career punt returns for touchdowns and earn All-Pac-12 honors as both a returner and wideout.
It didn't take the coaches at Washington long to realize that Pettis was a unique talent. After sitting out the 2014 opener, Pettis became the Huskies' primary punt returner in the second game of his college career, a role he would not relinquish over the next four seasons. He played in 13 of 14 games for Washington as a true freshman, starting five times and catching 17 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. He also averaged 10.3 yards on 28 punt returns, recording his first receiving and punt return scores against Colorado. Pettis' 87-yard return was the first by a Husky since 2003.
Pettis made steady gains as both a receiver and punt returner as a sophomore, starting eight of 13 games and boosting his catches to 30 for 414 yards and a score. He also averaged a Pac-12 best 16.9 yards as a punt returner, taking two back for scores (Boise State, Oregon State). Pettis' return against the Beavers went for 89 yards - the fourth longest punt return for a score in UW history.
With just two combined touchdown receptions over his freshman and sophomore campaigns, Pettis entered his junior season understandably better known for his return skills than as a receiver. In 2016, however, the narrative changed dramatically.
With Ross drawing attention to the other side, Pettis emerged as one of the more productive shallow and intermediate targets in the country as a junior, more than matching his previous career totals with career-highs in catches (53), receiving yards (822), average yards per reception (15.5) and 15 touchdown receptions, which ranked 7th in the entire country. Perhaps the best indication of Pettis' improvement was the fact that his touchdowns came in Washington's biggest games of the year, including the upset over then No. 7 ranked Stanford, two against rival Oregon, two more in the Apple Cup victory over Washington State and another versus Alabama in the Peach Bowl in which he beat first round cinch Marlon Humphrey.
For the second consecutive year, Pettis returned two punts for touchdowns, taking one back 68 yards in the 2016 season opener against Rutgers and a 58-yarder against Utah. The return in Salt Lake City was one of the biggest plays of the year for the eventual playoff-bound Huskies as it came with just 3:25 remaining and the score knotted up at 24-24, giving Washington the win.
With Ross moving on to the NFL and Washington shifting the focus of its offense to the running game, Pettis' production as a receiver dipped in 2017, though he still set a new career-high with 62 receptions over the regular season for 721 yards and seven scores, earning First Team All-Pac-12 honors from league coaches.
Like every other year of his career, Pettis saved many of his greatest plays for punt returns, earning consensus All-American honors with a school record four touchdowns in 2017, setting the all-time FBS record with nine career scores. For the third year in a row, Pettis took a punt return back for a touchdown in the season-opener, scoring from 61 yards out against Rutgers. He accomplished the same thing in Washington's next two games, taking back punts 67 yards and 77 yards, respectively, in wins over Montana and Fresno State before setting the record (and breaking an early 3-3 tie) with a 64-yard scamper against Oregon.
Pettis is not the biggest or fastest receiver in the country and he will not duplicate the first round selection Ross earned a year earlier. The agility, vision and soft hands which helped him become the most feared punt returner in college football, however, projects very well to the next level, as does his polished route running and reliable hands.
Earned first-team All-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division honors as a senior in 2013 ... named first-team All-Trinity League at wide receiver ... as a senior, caught 50 passes for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns ... helped Lions to a 7-3 record as a senior ... earned All-Trinity League at cornerback as a junior in 2012 ... also played basketball and ran track at Serra ... as a senior on the track team, competed in the state championships in the 200 meters and the long jump ... won the CIF-SS Division 3 title in the long jump with a career-best 24 feet, 7 inches ... took second in the Southern Section in the long jump (23-02.5) in 2013, while also finishing ninth in the triple jump ... father, Gary Pettis, played 11 seasons in Major Leagues for the Angels, Tigers, Rangers, Padres and Tigers, winning five Gold Gloves ... Gary is currently the third-base coach with the Astros ... cousin, Austin Pettis, is a wide receiver with the St. Louis Rams who finished his college career as Boise State's all-time leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns