We see this phenomenon every year – the players who make “The Leap” from on the radar to fantasy football stud. Let’s take a look at one of this season’s most likely breakout wide receivers.
MICHAEL PITTMAN JR., WR, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
In a way, Michael Pittman Jr. has always been the forgotten man.
In the 2020 NFL Draft, at the wide receiver position, he was taken after Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk and Tee Higgins.
Skill for skill, play for play, I think he can hang with any of those guys.
Relative to his own team, Indianapolis, our fantasy community lumped him in with both T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell heading into last season. He was just another face in the crowd. There was little separation there, if any.
And of course, the very nature of being a “junior” – Michael’s dad already preceded him with a very solid pro career. He’s second in line by default.
So, I’m thinking 2021 is Junior’s time to bust out. We saw flashes of it last season vs. Buffalo, Tennessee and Green Bay (most convincingly), and Hilton just had neck surgery this week. The door is open to more opportunity, and young Pittman simply needs to capitalize.
Pittman’s Over/Under on DraftKings Sportsbook is 800.5 yards this season, so that’s certainly something to consider in context.
With future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers hanging up his spikes for good, Carson Wentz steps in under center for Indianapolis (unless he gets COVID because he very much prefers to remain unvaccinated). If I needed to win a championship this season, I would probably prefer Rivers; but hey, we’re talkin’ fantasy here. Rivers became a crafty checkdown machine, but in fantasy we prefer Wentz’s potential to stretch the field some. Frank Reich has successful experience with Wentz, so we can naturally expect his performance to improve this year. Can’t get much worse, right?
That said, Wentz’s potential to be more versatile and aggressive than Rivers should be beneficial to the rapidity of Pittman’s development. Some important notes on last season, too:
1. The slow start was to be expected in a COVID year. I can’t even imagine what preparation was like for rookies. Talk about a nightmare for young players trying to get their feet wet.
2. He only played in 13 games, and started just 8. 503 receiving yards ain’t bad, considering.
3. In four of his first five games, his snap count was under 60%. In eight of his final nine games, his snap count increased to over 80%.
4. One of his most impressive games of the season actually came in the playoffs, when he led Indy in targets with 10. He turned those targets into 5 receptions for 90 yards. He also rushed for a first down on the ground. So, when it mattered the most – as a rookie – he led his team in both targets and receiving yards. Only one other receiving option had over 37 yards (veteran TE Jack Doyle).
Now, does that mean everything? No. But we can expound upon that in this way: I don’t think that there’s any question that, as the season progressed, the organization’s confidence in Pittman grew exponentially. And that includes teammates, coaches and the front office. One game doesn’t define a player, but we have to consider the positivity of ending the season on a high note.
As we head into this year, Fantasy Pros indicates that (as of the day of this writing) Pittman is going as the WR43 in Redraft. And we gotta like that potential upside, right? I see some questionable names going before him: DeVonta Smith (whose Over/Under on DK Sportsbook is just 775.5 yards), DJ Chark, Jeudy and Brandin Cooks. Pittman clearly has the ability to outperform his Redraft ADP.
In Dynasty, he’s also ranked as the WR43, shockingly behind injury-prone veteran Will Fuller. I honestly can’t wrap my head around that one.
Ultimately, we are getting the right price on Pittman, but to play Devil’s Advocate, we must at least consider the following: Reich is pushing a run-heavy attack. Jonathan Taylor is one of the most promising young running backs in the game. Nyheim Hines is one of the elite pass-catching backs in the game, and both Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins are still in the mix for this team. This is a strong running back room. It doesn’t really make sense for Indy to air it out from a fantasy perspective.
And, expect what I call “49ers treatment” for Wentz. Kyle Shanahan knows how to protect his quarterbacks by highlighting their strengths and hiding their flaws (got the most out of Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard, etc.). Reich is a sharp guy, and I fully expect him to do the same here. Yes, as I mentioned earlier we can expect Wentz to make more downfield throws than Rivers; but Reich will still be looking to limit turnovers. More conservative gameplan = less turnovers = increased confidence for Wentz, hypothetically. So the Devil’s Advocate says we may not get the volume we desire from Pittman.
Still, overall, I’m buying at these pricepoints. At 6-4, 223 pounds and 23 years of age, Michael Pittman Jr. is ready for his time in the sun. Get your shares before it’s too late.
John Frascella is a published sports author and Senior Fantasy Analyst for Aaron Torres Online. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football.
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