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Why Michael Pittman Jr. Will Be A Top-30 WR (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Yates | @KyleYNFL | Featured Writer
Jun 3, 2020

Throughout the offseason, Kyle Yates will be highlighting several marquee fantasy players as he walks through his projection process. These projections are subject to change based on injuries, signings above/below them on the depth chart, new information regarding scheme or player usage, etc. They’ll serve as a way to give a “peek behind the curtain” into Kyle’s projections thought process and whether or not a player will be a fantasy value in 2020.

In this article, we look at how Michael Pittman is well-positioned to finish as a top-30 WR in 2020.

Michael Pittman

I can remember starting to play fantasy football back in 2013 and hearing the advice to never draft a rookie WR in redraft leagues. They simply take longer to adjust to the NFL game and they rarely contribute right away…

However, over the last several years, we may be seeing a trend that suggests that rookie WRs might not be as volatile as once previously suggested. Obviously, there have been some very talented and deep classes coming into the NFL in recent history, which certainly helps the argument, but they’re contributing in a big way for fantasy football at a fraction of the cost as some veteran players.

For example, here are some of the rookie WRs last year and their fantasy finish in 2019…

All of those players were valuable assets to your fantasy football rosters last year and some may have even helped you win a championship. The beautiful part is that the cost of acquiring them was so low in drafts last year. For example, you were able to pick up guys like McLaurin and AJ Brown off of your waiver wire in week one if you didn’t draft them with your last pick.

As we look ahead to the 2020 season, there’s a case to be made that we could see several rookie WRs finish in the same range as the 2019 players listed above. This was one of the deepest WR classes we’ve ever seen hit the NFL and it came with some incredibly talented players that are ready to contribute right away. While guys like Jerry Jeudy and Jalen Reagor may have fallen into a spot that won’t lead to immediate fantasy value, there are a few other rookies that have a clear path to relevancy right out of the gates.

Michael Pittman in Indianapolis is one of those players. Pittman was a favorite of mine in this class heading into the draft and he landed in an amazing opportunity in Indy. With T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell alongside of him, Pittman stands a very solid chance of becoming the WR1 in this offense immediately. Rivers has shown an affinity with big players downfield and he’s not afraid to air it out.

Pittman has the talent, from what I saw when I watched his college tape, and he landed in an amazing opportunity. How does this all play out though for him to end up as a Top-30 WR?

Let’s look at the projections.

Projections

The Indianapolis Colts are certainly going to rely heavily on their run game this season with the addition of Jonathan Taylor to their backfield. With that being said, this is still an offense that is going to be up near the top of the league in total plays, which leaves plenty of targets to go around for this receiving corps.

In 2018, with Andrew Luck, the Colts passed the ball a ridiculous 644 times. In 2019, with Jacoby Brissett, they came crashing back down to earth and only threw the ball 513 times. This was, in large part, due to how inefficient the offense was and their inability to sustain drives.

If we’re looking to determine how many passing attempts the Colts will have this season, we need to be a little bit more optimistic and bump up the passing projections a bit. For 2020, I’m projecting a slight increase to 540 pass attempts. This assumes that the offense is slightly more capable with Rivers behind center than Brissett and that they’re able to sustain more drives over the course of the season. It’s hard to see the Colts finishing below this number when it’s all said and done, which gives us a safe floor when projecting these receiving options.

The Colts receiving corps has a ton of potential, but there are a lot of unknowns when you look across the depth chart. Can Parris Campbell stay healthy and take a step forward? Is T.Y. Hilton on the back end of his career and will he be able to stay healthy? Can Jack Doyle step forward into a prominent starting role?

With all those questions in mind, it’s not unreasonable to see the Colts receiving corps break down with the following target share percentages…

Pittman is going to be starting on the outside week one, which means that he will never come off the field. Campbell is apparently going to be their designated slot receiver, which leaves Hilton as the other starter on the outside. Frank Reich’s system heavily deploys 12 personnel, so Campbell’s upside is capped due to his lessened snap count. This means that Doyle will see a heavy share of targets, but Pittman is the main beneficiary. Hilton’s targets have steadily declined and he’s struggled to stay on the field over the past several seasons, so there’s the potential that even more targets could go Pittman’s way if Hilton misses time.

If we take Pittman’s projected targets and factor in the role that he’ll be playing in this offense, we can project a modest 61% catch rate this season. Pittman will be targeted heavily downfield, and while he certainly has the ability to go up and highpoint the ball, those are low percentage throws. However, he’ll also be used in the short to intermediate passing game, as he excels in beating press coverage off the line of scrimmage and can get out in space quickly. With the projected usage, we can also project a modest 13 YPR, which will compensate and balance out some of his deep targets with his quick receptions underneath.

With 108 targets, a projected 61% catch rate, and 13 YPR, this equals out to 856 receiving yards. Based on the expected TD rate, which I go over in previous articles in this series, we can project Pittman’s baseline at 5 TDs based off of his receiving yardage. However, I’m fully expecting the Colts to be in the red zone regularly with their rushing attack and Pittman is going to be the biggest beneficiary. At 6’4/220, he towers above the rest of the receiving options (other than Alie-Cox and Doyle) and possesses incredible contested catch ability. In the red zone, the passing windows become much smaller, so you need the players that can go up and win in contested situations. I’m expecting the Colts to target Pittman heavily in the red zone, which allows me to feel comfortable projecting Pittman aggressively at 7 receiving TDs on the season.

With that being the case, Pittman’s overall receiving stats look like 108 targets, 66 receptions, 856 receiving yards, and 7 TDs.

Fantasy Outlook

With those projected statistics, Pittman slides in at WR29 in my season long rankings. With that being said, there’s room for him to finish even higher than that if Hilton misses time again and if the Colts throw the ball more than I’m projecting.

Pittman’s pro-ready and he’s going to step in and contribute right away. Currently, Pittman has an ADP Consensus of WR68, which indicates that he’s not being drafted in most mock drafts right now. Additionally, Pittman’s ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) is currently WR69, which indicates that the experts are sleeping on him as well. His play style matches up with Rivers’ perfectly and he’s walking into one of the best situations for a rookie WR.

Last season, we saw several rookie WRs finish well above where we expected them to produce. I fully expect Pittman’s ADP and ECR to rise as we get closer to the season, so if you draft early take advantage of people sleeping on him and snag Pittman with one of your last picks. As long as he’s on the field, he’s going to produce for your fantasy football roster…and he has the upside to finish even higher than where I’ve currently got him ranked.

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Kyle Yates is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @KyleYNFL.

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