There are a lot of things to like about Colts 2nd round pick Michael Pittman Jr. He’s a big-body receiver whose size and physicality are likely the first thing most will notice about him. However, he’s a lot more than that, and I think the Colts are going to get a lot of use out of him in the 2020 season.
Philip Rivers had two bigger receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams with the Chargers that he targeted often, and Pittman offers that same kind of target in Rivers’ new home. Let’s take a look at his game to get an idea of just what the Colts have got.
What immediately jumps off the tape is that Pittman is a smooth route runner. He doesn’t waste a lot of motion, and while speed isn’t his calling card, he does have a long-striding way that lets him eat up space in a hurry. The guy definitely isn’t slow either, clocking a 4.52 40 time at the combine.
This 12-yard curl shows Pittman at his best in terms of his route running. He has to slightly change course because of the nickel corner who is closing to the flat receiver. Even with the added step, his motion is barely disrupted and smooth. He sells the post and hits his break back to the ball cleanly. Then, when the ball arrives, he makes the catch away from his body and stretches for maximum yards. This is exactly the kind of rep you want from him.
Here he is running a 5-yard slant from the red zone, and he makes it look easy. Given off-coverage, Pittman eats up the cushion quickly while still keeping his feet under him. He leverages the corner to the outside, so that when he jab-steps with his outside foot, he has a nice bubble to the inside. Then it is just an easy throw and catch for a touchdown.
This is a rep the defensive back would like to forget. The corner lines up like he’ll press, but bails right away. Pittman drives his route at the cornerback’s inside shoulder, again having to maneuver cleanly around the flat defender. He hits his break while his man isn’t looking and finds himself all alone.
While some of this is bad coverage by the cornerback, there is something I want to note about Pittman that stands out. Not all young receivers naturally flow to the open zones. That is exactly what Pittman does here. He is open, but comes back to the ball, walling off the nickel who is inside him and making sure he’s the one who will get the ball.
Even here on a play where Pittman loses his footing, he demonstrates good body control both to recover and make the catch, but more importantly, to use his size to box out the defender. This inherent understanding of positioning is key for a big man, and Pittman does it well.
On the deep route here, we don’t get quite as clean a route. While he does press the receiver to the outside, his inside jab step is a bit sloppy, amounting to more of a head-fake. As a result, he doesn’t get great separation down the sideline, and ends up getting forced out of bounds. He is locked up with the defender all the way into the end zone, but re-establishes in bounds and gets his hands up and makes the catch for a big touchdown. A better route makes this an easier catch, but it is tough to argue with the results.
One of the most impressive parts of Pittman’s game is his hands. He has great concentration and extremely soft hands, to receive the ball. However, the thing that impressed me most is that you see his hands consistently come up at the last second. This makes disrupting the pass out of man coverage a tough task, since they’re taught to play the receiver, not to watch the quarterback.
This is a perfect example of what I mean. Pittman is again dealing with coverage that is bailing, and he again drives at the inside shoulder. When he hits his break on the comeback, he has his man all crossed up, and scrambling to recover. The ball is halfway to him before his hands come up. This was something Reggie Wayne was an expert at, and you definitely like seeing it in Pittman. While it doesn’t really matter on this play, his consistency here is in line with the kind of player he is.
Here we see both Pittman’s surprising speed and physicality on display.
He comes in motion off the edge and gets the swing pass to the right side. He is met by the safety fully 5 yards short of the line to gain, but still manages to drag his would-be tacklers to less than a yard shy of the first down marker. The Colts haven’t had a receiver in my memory who could just run over and drag defenders, but that is absolutely something Pittman can and will do.
Along with not showing your hands too early, one of the key things about being a receiver his size is that Pittman has the catch radius that makes a quarterback’s life far easier.
This rep shows that on display, as well as just about everything the Colts undoubtedly liked about Pittman leading up to the draft. It starts with the corner coming up like he plans to press at the line. The corner tries to force inside leverage but Pittman easily outstrips him on the inside before crossing his defender and giving himself a huge bubble of field ahead of him.
The safety is slow to close to him, and the only reason he even has a prayer of getting a hand on the ball is because the quarterback simply can’t get enough distance to prevent Pittman from having to pull up to make the catch. It doesn’t matter, however, because he does well to high-point the ball, catching it outside of his frame and making it nearly impossible to break up.
The finisher is that once he makes the catch, Pittman’s great balance enables him to keep his feet and he runs 30 yards with the corner hanging on to him to score the touchdown. This particular kind of big play is what the Colts hope to see from their 2nd round pick, and one they haven’t had on their roster in my memory.
The Colts have drafted a true impact player in Michael Pittman Jr. His game isn’t flawless, but he is exactly the kind of player the Colts needed to add. He has good speed, great length, his route running is solid, and he has excellent hands. There is no doubt that Frank Reich loves seeing his level of physicality, both as a blocker and with the ball in his hands.
With Frank Reich scheming up plays to utilize him, you can count on Pittman doing a lot of damage right out of the gate. We saw what Reich was able to do with Eric Ebron in 2018 when he had a QB who was willing to get him the ball. I think we could be talking about an Eric Ebron kind of contribution for Michael Pittman early. The difference is that you won’t get the mind boggling drops like you had with Ebron.
Lining him up across from T.Y. Hilton will put opposing defenses in a no-win situation where they have to decide who they’ll roll help to in coverage. That fully ignores the impact of Parris Campbell, Marlon Mack, any of the tight ends, and perhaps the most talented member of the 2020 draft class, Jonathan Taylor. This offense is going to be humming, and I can’t wait to see it in action.