INDIANAPOLIS — The group of wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft was considered potentially historic in terms of top-level talent and the depth of quality players.
Although the Indianapolis Colts did not have a first-round pick this year, one of the best parts about this being such a potentially historic class of receivers was that some players with first-round talent would still be available when they were due up to pick early in the second round.
The Colts needed high-level reinforcements at receiver, and that's exactly how it worked out for them when USC's Michael Pittman Jr. was available at the top of Round 2 with the 34th-overall selection. Pittman Jr. likely would have found his way into the first round in a normal year, but he fell right into the Colts' lap.
Recently, Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport set out to predict a breakout star for each NFL team, and Pittman Jr. made the list as the Colts' representative, even as a rookie. Per Davenport:
The Indianapolis Colts made a number of big changes on offense this year. There's a new quarterback in town in Philip Rivers. Indy also used a pair of picks early on Day 2 to add to the weapons at Rivers' disposal.
Both of those rookies have breakout potential. Jonathan Taylor was one of the most productive running backs in college football history. But there's a capable pro ahead of Taylor on the depth chart (at least for now) in Marlon Mack and a solid pass-catching back in Nyheim Hines. It may take a while for Taylor to assert himself.
Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. has a clearer path to making an early dent. As Kevin Hickey wrote for Colts Wire, head coach Frank Reich said he sees Pittman serving as the team's 'X' receiver from the get-go. Having T.Y. Hilton to draw coverage away from him certainly won't hurt. And as the team's new quarterback, Rivers has no pre-existing relationships with the veteran wideouts on the roster.
Pittman has a realistic chance to be the No. 1 rookie receiver in the NFL in 2020.
It's not much of a stretch to consider the possibility of Pittman Jr. having a breakout season as a rookie.
Over the last three seasons, the top five NFL rookie wide receivers in pass targets were targeted an average of 79.9 times per year, resulting in 49.3 receptions for 732.5 yards (14.9 avg.) and 5.0 touchdowns in their first year. While those aren't quite Pro Bowl-level numbers, they're enough to grab people's attention.
The most-targeted among the aforementioned group was D.K. Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks with 97 in 2019, while the least was Corey Davis of the Tennessee Titans with 64 in 2017.
As for Pittman Jr., he has a case to be up toward the top level of that group.
The Colts have a new quarterback in Philip Rivers, who has been one of the most prolific passers of his era. In fact, he's likely to finish the 2020 season No. 5 all-time in NFL history in career passing yards and touchdowns.
With that said, a confident, voluminous passer like Rivers does not yet have a favorite target on the Colts, so Pittman Jr. could turn into his guy. Rookies have earned veterans' trust many times before, such as wide receiver Terry Glenn's 167 targets with quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 1996, Anquan Boldin's 165 targets with Jeff Blake in 2003, Michael Thomas' 119 targets in 2016 and Marques Colston's 115 targets in 2006 with Drew Brees, and most notably Keenan Allen's 105 targets with Rivers himself in 2013.
Throughout his career, Rivers has proven to be drawn to the taller, big-bodied pass-catchers, as guys like Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Hunter Henry and Mike Williams have all thrived with Rivers throwing them the ball, so Pittman Jr.'s 6-4, 223-pound frame should draw his QB's attention.
Pittman Jr. is also a pro-ready prospect, as his mix of size, adequate speed and athleticism, as well as his route running, ability to high-point passes and sticky hands should make him an immediate contributor.
The Colts envision Pittman Jr. eventually becoming their receiving corps' top dog, and a true X-receiver who can beat press-man coverage and do just about anything needed of a receiver at all levels of the field.
What should help get Pittman Jr. where he and the Colts want him to go is his work ethic, as he's a football junkie and knows he has to outwork everyone to earn his spot on the team.
"Yeah, just showing up every day. When I say showing up like showing up, working hard, being there early and studying plays," Pittman Jr. told reporters as to the keys to his collegiate success. "It just leads to more opportunities and when they happen, you have prepared for them."
More opportunities — as Pittman Jr. said — could very well translate into a productive rookie season.