Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Well, not quite. However, the Colts continued their offseason, superstar theme, by adding another superhero, the 2nd round selection of USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Indy chose the USC receiver with the 2nd pick in round 2, and 34th overall. Pittman joins a lengthy list of WR’s selected in the first two days of the 2020 draft. Many draft analysts expressed deep depth, this year, at the WR position.
Pittman flourished in his senior season, as a team captain for USC. Per sports-reference.com, in 2019, Pittman finished 1st in the Pac-12 in receptions and receiving yards, 5th in yards from scrimmage, and 7th in touchdowns. He had 12.6 yards per catch. He dominated a Utah secondary, which had 3 secondary players drafted in the 2020 first 3 rounds, by posting 10 receptions, for 232 yards, and 1 TD. He, also, as a senior, had double digit reception games against UCLA, California, and Arizona State.
Due to a number of variables, the Colts passing game ranked in the bottom third in many statistical categories. The offense ranked 24th in pass attempts, 30th in pass yards, and 25th in net yards per pass attempts. Throughout the season, injuries to TY Hilton, Devin Funchess, and Parris Campbell forced Indianpolis to utilize their 5th and 6th wide receivers. With Funchess moving on to Green Bay, Pittman offers unique measurables to the receiving corps.
Colts Rostered WR’s, as of June 2020.
*=Projected to make 53 man roster
From a measurables standpoint, Pittman instantly adds height and weight (second to fellow 2020 draftee, WR Dezmond Patton) to the pass catchers. With the exception of now departed TE Eric Ebron, the Colts have lacked an above the rim playmaker at the receiving position. At 6’4,” with a 36.5” vertical, and 32.5” arm length, Pittman has the range and radius to go up and get it. As a point of reference, the longest WR arm length, at the 2020 combine, was 34.25 inches.
The Colts have not had a formidable X-receiver since Reggie Wayne. Donte Moncrief had his moments, but could not stay on the field. I am defining the X Position as an on the ball receiver, aligned, primarily, opposite the Y and Z receivers. Being directly on the ball allows for direct press from CB’s. The position requires strength and quickness to defeat and allude consistent physicality and hand fighting. Pittman has the traditional size, and required strengths, and athletic abilities to play the X position. His game and skillset overlaps with WR Mike Evans, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In general, the 2019 Colts passing game focused on short to intermediate throws, with high priority in getting the ball out quickly. They would attack the deep parts of the field with play action, and with desired matchups in single-high, safety shells. Though the team relied more on the running game in 2019, 5th in rushing attempts and 7th in rushing yards, new variables should allow for a more balanced approach. First and foremost is the change in QB from Jacoby Brissett to free agent signee, Phillip Rivers. When one watches game film of both, it is undeniable the enhancement, in sophistication, that Rivers will add. While Brissett is a quarterback the team can win with, River’s increases the areas with which Brissett most struggles. For the offense, River’s will increase the number of per-snap reads, throws with anticipation, willingness to turn the ball loose, and disposition to stand in the pocket, longer, to make throws. This enables a deepening of the pass playbook, creating more opportunities for WR Pittman.
While there were a number of options, in 2019, as to whom the Colts might identify as their “”X” receiver, often, the Colts would contrast WR Zach Pascal against their primary “Z” receiver, TY Hilton. The Colts also liked to utilize tight ends on the backside of trips formations, in an X-Iso role, usually Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. Pittman instantly transfers, providing that big bodied catch radius, albeit with increased speed and athleticism.
Pascal, and earlier in the season WR Deon Cain, were responsible for all levels of the field, from their perimeter X position. Based on film, they ran sticks, slants, and unders in the quick game. In the intermediate areas they ran hinge routes, curls and in’s. For, the deeper parts of the field, often with play action, they would run posts, corners, deep curls, and digs in NCAA concepts.
Within the aforementioned contexts, there are a number of specific assignments for Pittman to execute. When TE, or sometimes Hilton, was isolated on the backside of trips formations, the Colts would run a lot of clear outs on the front side for them to run cross field shallows to the vacated area. This works against both zone and man coverage.
In play action shot plays, 2 man routes, the 6’2” Zach Pascal would be on the line of scrimmage, and run opposite TY Hilton. Pittman should replace Pascal in this setting especially since the Colts usually have at least one TE in the formation, leaving Pascal off the field.
Also, especially given the acquisition of Phillip Rivers, Pittman, along with Hilton, provides another receiver who can win in 1-on-1 matchups against man coverage. There are few QB’s in the league, more than Phillip Rivers, who love to give their guy’s solo opportunities.
Giddy up Colts Nation! The Ponies continue to add acclaimed stars to the 2020 roster.