According to NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein, two Indianapolis Colts are Top 10 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates for the 2020 season: running back Jonathan Taylor (4th) and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (10th):
4) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
If Taylor manages to wrangle the lion’s share of carries away from Marlon Mack this year, he could challenge Burrow for the title of top offensive rookie. Taylor spent three seasons as the ramrod for Wisconsin’s downhill rushing attack and should fit right in with the bully ball that the Colts like to play behind their talented offensive line. Mack, who’s in a contract year, has been consistently productive when healthy, but he’s missed time in each of his three seasons, which could portend more rookie carries for Taylor than some expect.
10) Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Indianapolis Colts
Having Pittman ranked ahead of a player like CeeDee Lamb might surprise some people, but that decision is a reflection of my opinion that Pittman’s in a better situation for rookie success. We know Philip Rivers is not afraid to find a favorite target and seek that player out over and over again. While T.Y. Hilton is still a very talented receiver, he’s small (for his position) and fast, which might not make him the optimal fit for Rivers’ arm strength. On the other hand, Pittman is a big target with good ball skills and toughness who might work his way into the good graces of the veteran quarterback early on.
Selected by the Colts with the 41st overall pick, Taylor was incredibly productive at Wisconsin—rushing for back-to-back 2,000 yard seasons and earning unanimous First-Team All-American, Big Ten Running Back of the Year, First-Team All-Big Ten, and Doak Walker Award honors in consecutive years for the Badgers.
At 5’10”, 226 pounds, Taylor ran a 4.39 forty time at this year’s NFL Combine (the fastest among rookie running backs who tested). He has drawn athletic comparisons to both New York Giants’ All-Pro Saquon Barkley, as well as Dallas Cowboys’ All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott.
Rushing behind the Colts’ dominant run blocking offensive line—featuring All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson, Taylor is in an ideal situation in Indianapolis. In particular, his vision and patience should be a natural fit in the Colts’ zone-blocking scheme—where if he can get any crack of daylight, he has true home run hitting ability to the house.
Taylor has a dynamic combination of speed and power that should be able to make a meaningful, game-changing impact to the Colts immediately as a prominent rookie rusher.
The critical question for Taylor during 2020 will be whether he can be the greater bellcow in a crowded Colts’ backfield that also includes last year’s 1,000 yard rusher Marlon Mack.
Meanwhile, Pittman Jr. was selected by the Colts with the 34th overall pick. The Trojans’ senior captain caught 101 receptions for 1,275 receiving yards (12.6 ypr. avg.) and 11 touchdown receptions during 13 starts in 2019—earning First-Team All-Pac 12 honors and was also named a Second-Team All-American.
Playing with longtime Chargers’ veteran starter Philip Rivers—who historically loves throwing to big bodied wideouts downfield (including Jackson, as well as Malcolm Floyd and more recently, Mike Williams Jr.), Pittman Jr. should thrive as the Colts’ natural ‘X’ wideout working the sideline and deep routes.
In addition to his huge size, Pittman Jr. has excellent hands (as noted by a 2.8% career drop rate at USC), nuanced route running, and an ‘above the rim’ playing style—where he can highpoint the football and win 50-50 jumpballs downfield. He’s an imposing wide receiver, who plays with a physical style as both a perimeter blocker and running after the catch.
Even as a young wide receiver, Pittman Jr. is very polished and has a chance to make an immediate impact—especially with a veteran like Rivers routinely taking shots to him downfield.
With solely a virtual offseason so far, it’s just a matter of whether Pittman Jr. can build enough chemistry with Rivers and learn the Colts’ offensive playbook quickly. Generally, it takes some time for young NFL wideouts to learn the ropes and make adjustments at the professional ranks.
Zierlein is right though.
Both of the Colts’ highly touted offensive rookies should be top candidates to potentially become NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. They are both set-up in ideal situations in Indianapolis where they can each really flourish from the get-go and hit the ground running.