INDIANAPOLIS — Chris McGaha, an area scout for the Indianapolis Colts who focuses on the West Coast, as well as Matt Terpening, the Colts' assistant director of college scouting, and general manager Chris Ballard discuss what they saw in wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., the Colts' second-round (34th-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft (excerpts from interviews done with local media members, as well as with Colts.com):
We heard Jim Irsay compare Michael Pittman Jr. to Reggie Wayne. I'm guessing that has to do with his hands. Is that a fair comparison?
McGaha: "I didn't scout Reggie coming out. I watched Reggie live and on TV just like you guys did, but I don't know if I can compare the two like that. I saw Reggie at practice. I just know Michael's a big kid, he's a reliable target, he's a physical player, he's fast, he's a guy that plays above the rim, he brings an element that we were missing to our wideout room; that big-body presence. I'm really excited about Michael. He's a kid that... I went to USC. I've been going there for the last two years now, so I've been watching Michael a lot up close and personal, watching him play live too. He's somebody that. — and I told this to Chris — he's somebody that watching him in practice, I never saw him lose a one-on-one rep. And I know that might sound crazy, but it's true. The coaches at USC are great. They let you stay for the entire practice. So, I would really dial in when it was one-on-one time just to watch him compete, see what kind of competitor he was. And I'm not just saying this: I never saw him lose a one-on-one rep the times I was there for practice. So, I think it just speaks to his competitiveness. He wasn't a guy too that maybe won a rep and then let you know about it either. He just went about his business. He'd win a rep and then jog back to the huddle. So, I'm really excited what he can do on really all four downs: first, second, and third down, obviously. And then he's a kid that played special teams all four years. He got his start at USC on special teams as a freshman. Won his spot as a sophomore. Beat out an upperclassmen as a sophomore, and then just continued to improve from there. So, I think there's a lot of upside to Michael Pittman."
With Pittman Jr. and Dezmon Patmon, how hard was it to have receivers stand out or differentiate themselves in a class that was supposed to be as deep as this one was?
McGaha: "I think you just take them one by one, you know what I mean? You just follow the same process for each one, and then just allow the tape to speak to you and grade them based on what you see. So, I don't know. They're both similar guys really. It's funny. We talked about wanting to get bigger at the wideout spot. They're both similar guys just in that they're bigger receivers. You look at their measureables, they're pretty similar actually. I know Michael ran a little faster at the Combine, but they both just bring that big presence to us. To answer your question, I think, as a scout, you just follow the same process with each guy and you allow the tape to lead you to the appropriate grade."
During the board-building process, what was your argument for Pittman Jr.?
McGaha: "Michael Pittman as a player is a big, strong athletic player who can go up, get the ball, play above the rim, kind of beat up on littler guys. He's fast, athletic — he's different than I think maybe some of the wideouts we've had, just that he brings a more physical skillset, a bigger body. He's not afraid to go inside and kind of do some of the dirty work to work across the middle. I was really trying to push him for his toughness, his competitiveness, and then his consistency too. He had 130-something targets this year. He caught 101 balls. He had three drops on the year. So, when it came to Michael Pittman, the player, I was trying to push him as a tough, competitive guy that you can rely on. First, second, third down, you can rely on this kid. He's got the bloodlines, his dad played in the NFL. His dad was a tough, hard-nosed running back. And then, when you talk about the person, he's just a phenomenal person. I think you're going to love to get to know him. He's a grownup already, he's kind of his own person. He's not easily influenced, he's just himself and he's comfortable in his own skin. He's got a lot of hobbies kind of away from football so he's a well-rounded person. He's going to be a great addition to the community and to the locker room."
It seemed like it was a consensus on Pittman Jr. from Day 1. Did you have much challenge to your argument for him?
McGaha: "Sure. I think there's challenge with every person. I think Chris does a great job, like I said, of kind of beating you up as a scout to make you prove it, but Coach (Reich) is right. Michael Pittman's tape really speaks for itself that what you see on tape, he's the same guy. You can pick any game, I think from this year and last year and go about through his career and you're going to see the same guy day in and day out. So yeah, Coach is right, he was a guy that we turned the tape on in February and everybody was fired up for him. And the more we did, the more digging we did as an organization, as a group, from February through April, you'll only continue to get more and more excited about him because he's the same guy each and every week on tape."
What did you like about Pittman Jr., and what makes him so polished?
Terpening: "So he's a great example of a kid, again, I sound like a broken record, but he actually thought about coming out last year, too. I think he was on the fence and he stayed, and I've been going into USC for probably 11 years now, I know a lot of the coaches there and his position coach this year was a guy named Keary Colbert, who played in the league, played at USC. And we actually had him as an intern coach a few years ago. And Michael just had a great season. He basically dominated college football. And I saw him play live twice and he's got, obviously he's got great makeup and character, he's a captain, he's a leader, he's smart, he has all the little things. You guys will see when you see him up close, he's big, he's strong, and I think Chris said the other day, he can win at all three levels. And so that's what drew us to him. And then seeing him at the Combine, he ran in the high 4.4s, low 4.5s, is a big body. He's got excellent hands. He can separate. So we're just really excited to get a player like him. He's got all the things you look for from off the field, on the field, size, smarts."
Were you at Pittman Jr's. game against Utah?
Terpening: "You know what? I was not at the Utah game. I saw him play against Colorado; it was a real big game for him because he kind of came back — the game went into overtime — and he kind of won the game for him at the end. But the Utah game was impressive because all those players on that defense were guys that they're definitely a lot of NFL players. So that was big."
You've seen a lot of big guys over the years who maybe don't maximize that attribute to its fullest extent. Does Pittman Jr. play in such a way that he gets the most out of his size?
Terpening: "Yeah, so he's a tough matchup for corners because there's a lot of guys who are big, but they don't necessarily play big all the time. He plays big and he's got great ball skills and he can win at the catch point with his size, but he's got such good hands where he can win and kind of fight through that first hit, that first contact. So that's something that really drew us to him. Chris said the other day, 'He wins it all three levels,' and I think he can win the jump ball — and it's easier said than done for guys that are big, but some guys just kind of have a knack for it. He's got a knack for it."
What made Pittman Jr. the right fit for the Colts?
Terpening: "I think his tape, his production for his size — he's got excellent size, but he's an excellent athlete for his size. So he brings a lot of things to the table for us. He can win deep, he can separate, he can get the tough yards. And then he's got this track record there where he's played special teams. He's got two blocked punts in his career, or maybe it's actually three blocked punts, but he's just a football player. He just kind of does everything that his team asks for and he produces. He's basically done that every year he has been there."
You were there first-hand at the Combine. Was Pittman Jr. someone you all were looking at early on in the process and multiple points of contact with? How did that evolve earlier this year?
Terpening: "Yeah, so we talked to him at the Combine and then he was at the Senior Bowl, and that was the first time I had a chance to talk to him, and Brian Decker talked to him as well. He didn't play in the Senior Bowl game, but the practices he did well and then seeing him again at the Combine and then getting a chance to talk to him there was big. And then he actually performed great on the field drills so that was really positive. And then we're all set to see him on his Pro Day, right, until everything got canceled. So his Pro Day was a few days after everything got canceled."
Going from the first round to the second round, you have the second pick at 34th overall. Were you getting many calls exploring trade possibilities? And when did you decide to just go with Pittman Jr.?
Ballard: "Actually, when the draft ends Thursday night, you start getting a flurry of calls, like, 'Hey, are you gonna be willing to move?' Which we always are. And then build-up to that day, we talk through scenarios, players, what can happen if we move back, how far can we move back and still get the players that we have targeted? But at the end of the day, we had concern that Pittman was gonna go if we moved back too far, so we started to go ahead and make the pick."
What is the give and take of considering a trade at 34th-overall vs. getting a guy you really like, like Pittman Jr.?
Ballard: "You're rolling the dice. And we had about three or four players that we would've targeted besides him, but we also knew that we wanted to add explosive playmakers on offense. And the run in the first round of all those receivers made us think twice in that spot of moving back. … I told this story the other day: you don't ever wanna move back. You got a cluster of players that you like on the board — let's say there's four or five players — well, at that point you don't wanna move back too far where you lose all four or five of them. So we've gotta weigh kind of what the needs are, the teams that we have behind us, plus teams behind them that might jump up and take the player we wanted. So once we got done weighing all those things, we decided just to stay put and take our guy."