INDIANAPOLIS — A pair of Indianapolis Colts rookies have people eager to see them hit the field and make an impact.
The Colts used their first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft on skill position players in wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. out of USC (No. 34-overall) and running back Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin (No. 41-overall).
The pair are added to an offensive unit for the Colts that signed quarterback Philip Rivers to their roster earlier this offseason to join the likes of Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.
Recently, Dan Parr of NFL.com ranked his top 25 2020 NFL rookies that are set up for early success, and both Colts youngsters cracked his list; Pittman Jr. at No. 20 in the "Don't Sleep On 'Em" category, and Taylor at No. 8 with the group of "Greatness Within Reach."
20) Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Indianapolis Colts: This big (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) former Trojan has a shot to step right in, immediately remind his veteran QB of a favorite target from a former life and become a go-to guy, particularly in the red zone, on a team with legit Super Bowl aspirations. Colts GM Chris Ballard has likened Pittman to Vincent Jackson, the former receiver who had three 1,000-yard seasons during his time with Colts QB Philip Rivers (still sounds weird to say) when they played for the Chargers. There's the potential for Pittman to lose reps to Zach Pascal, who's coming off a quietly solid second season, but the rookie's size, toughness and ball skills gives him the edge.
We recently discussed where Pittman Jr. was considered a possibility as the top rookie receiver by year's end, so it's easy to see how he could be an early contributor.
He is a big receiver with a wide catch radius and has glue traps for hands. Pittman Jr. runs quality routes, and that route tree is bound to broaden early in his NFL career. That, coupled with his adequate speed, leads to him getting some separation from the defender.
Another big factor is Pittman Jr.'s new quarterback, Philip Rivers, who is also new to the Colts. With that being the case, Rivers does not yet have a go-to target with the Colts. Historically in his career, he loves the big targets like Pittman Jr., so there's a good chance the pair develops a rapport early.
The Colts have high hopes and big expectations for their top pick, so you can be sure he'll do everything he can to make good on Parr's assessment and become an immediate contributor.
8) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts: The only thing standing in the way of a monster debut season for Taylor is fellow Colts RB Marlon Mack, who can attest to the benefits of running behind one of the league's best offensive lines after recording his first 1,000-yard season in 2019. The tooth-rattling power of road grader Quenton Nelson and Taylor put together could make for fun viewing in Indy. Colts OC Nick Sirianni is calling Mack and Taylor a '1-1 punch' instead of a 1-2 punch, presumably to give both a confidence boost, but c'mon. Chris Ballard traded up to land Taylor in Round 2. Now let the beast eat.
It's easy at this point to wonder just how much the Colts will utilize Jonathan Taylor's contributions as a rookie based on the rest of Colts' quality backfield with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, but you know head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni are going to have their plan for Taylor. You simply don't trade up for a running back in the top 50 without having plans of him contributing early.
With Hines likely to play a big role as Rivers' main pass-catching back, Mack and Taylor will be the "1-1 punch" as the early-down backs. However, with Taylor being a little bigger and more powerful, could that lead to him getting more calls as the goal-line back, potentially resulting in a whole mess of touchdowns?
Taylor's speed — his 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine was tops among all running backs — could also mean some home runs for him behind that dominant Colts offensive line.
He'll likely also see fewer stacked boxes from the defense in the NFL than he did at Wisconsin since the Colts have Rivers and a passing game, and college defenses knew that Taylor was the first, second and third things they needed to worry about against Wisconsin.
While Taylor's long-term outlook appears sky-high, he'll still be a contributor for the Colts in the short term.