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Michael Pittman Jr. poised to take WR1 baton from T.Y. Hilton

Is 2021 the year where the new era of WRs takes over for Indianapolis?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

From Marvin Harrison to Reggie Wayne to T.Y. Hilton, there’s currently a strong lineage within the Indianapolis Colts for star wide receivers. Each era has led to a passing of the torch situation between three of Indianapolis’ modern-day franchise stars. Now, entering into the 2021-22 season, there’s a new chapter about to unfold.

Say hello to Michael Pittman Jr., future and present WR1 for the Colts. Yes, you read that right, this will be the year where the baton is officially passed on from Hilton to the new generation. So far throughout training camp, the strong indications point to this occurring as well.

Pittman Jr.’s swagger has been on another level throughout training camp in Grand Park. He’s bringing that alpha dog mentality every single day, which is rubbing off on others within the offense as well. When the Carolina Panthers visited Westfield for their joint practices, all the skirmishes one way or another involved MPJ. Safe to say that the Colts’ No. 34 overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft is ready to take the mantle from Hilton.

Whether it be against Carolina in practice, or running against their own defense, Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger have consistently looked Pittman Jr.’s way. In terms of target share, Pittman Jr. has a sizable gap on Hilton for opportunities. There was one day earlier this week where Eason and Hilton connected on five receptions, but, outside of that, it’s been a steady diet of MPJ as a focal point for Indy’s offensive attack.

Coming out of USC, Pittman Jr. was viewed as a nearly complete wide receiver prospect. Standing at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Pittman Jr. could beat defensive backs off the line of scrimmage with physicality and finesse thanks to a top-notch foot speed for a bigger wideout.

Colts head coach Frank Reich fell in love with MPJ throughout the pre-draft process. At one point Reich said he might even be the best WR from his entire draft class. High praise for the USC Trojan, but it shows exactly how high the Colts view Pittman Jr. in their future plans.

After an up-and-down rookie season that was hampered by compartment leg syndrome, Pittman Jr.’s strong finish had many in Indianapolis buzzing about a massive sophomore jump. Although Pittman’s 2020-21 numbers won’t wow you from a box score perspective — 40 receptions, 503 yards, 1 touchdown — it’s how he was featured late in Indy’s offense that opened eyes for what’s to come next. In eight of the Colts’ last 10 games, Pittman Jr. received at least five targets.

Carson Wentz love big-bodied wide receivers, evidence from when Alshon Jeffery was Philadelphia’s primary target when Reich called plays for him back in 2017. Pittman Jr. figures to step into the Jeffery role and potentially exceed those monster target share values. With a 17-game regular season, there’s no reason why MPJ shouldn’t have 100-plus targets thrown his way.

The 2020 draft class led by Jonathan Taylor and Pittman Jr. is expected to be the backbone to Indianapolis’ offense throughout this season. Although nationally Pittman Jr. isn’t mentioned at all amongst second-year pros expected to take big steps forward, here’s a warning shot to those not paying attention: MPJ is poised to become Indianapolis’ new featured passing game weapon moving forward.

Colts GM Chris Ballard said earlier this offseason he was betting big on Pittman Jr. If Ballard is giddy about MPJ’s potential, so should every single Colts fan as well.