Getting right into it, I have a more recently-risen star for you this week.
Coming out of high school, Michael Pittman Jr. was a highly-recruited four-star prospect who made several All-American teams, had 81 receptions for 1990 yards and 24 touchdowns his senior year of high school, and, per 24/7, was the #8 receiver in his class.
He has also generated a lot of conversation in dynasty communities and has certainly improved his draft stock greatly with a breakout 95-reception, 1222-yard, 11-touchdown effort in 2019.
This included three straight games of at least 11 receptions and 100 yards to close out the regular season, as well as a 232-yard, 2 touchdown performance against one of the nation’s better defenses in Utah.
Standing 6-foot-4, weighing in around 220 pounds, Pittman has the prototypical WR1 size NFL teams covet and there’s a little Kenny Golladay to his game. While he’s not a burner, he doesn’t necessarily need to be at his size. He will be able to out-physical and out-leap defenders as an effective possession receiver and redzone target at the next level.
Pittman catches the ball with his hands, not his body, is adept at making catches in traffic, and also at high-pointing the ball, snagging passes over the heads of defensive backs. After the catch, Pittman does not want to be tackled. He fights for yards and employs a solid stiff arm to keep defenders away.
A play Pittman made against Utah illustrates all of this perfectly. He Mossed two defenders, leaping high over them and hauling in the catch at a height that no one but Pittman himself could’ve even gotten a hand on it. He then stuck the landing and ran past both for the score.
Pittman also has an NFL pedigree as the son of Michael Pittman Sr., a former NFL running back. Pittman Sr. played college ball at Fresno State and was a 4th-round draft selection. He won a Super Bowl in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had five straight seasons with at least 1100 yards from scrimmage during the prime of his career. Pittman Sr. collected 9139 YFS and 33 total touchdowns overall.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Michael Jr. is ready to follow in his father’s NFL footsteps. He finished 2019 as one of the nation’s best receivers and was recently named a Biletnikoff Award finalist alongside LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb despite playing with a true freshman QB for most of the year. Chase and Lamb, of course, had the benefit of catching passes from senior Heisman contenders, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, respectively.
There is some cause to be skeptical, however. Pittman didn’t breakout until his senior year, where he essentially doubled his stat line from his freshman through junior years combined. I learned my lesson though after ranking Hakeem Butler as the #1 receiver last year and now one of the things I look for is whether a player broke out before his junior season. One positive from this, though, is that Pittman showed gradual improvement each season before his big breakout.
The late breakout also doesn’t mean Pittman (or Butler for that matter) won’t ultimately succeed in the pros, but it does make me believe Pittman will get off to a slow start to his NFL career. For loaded dynasty teams who do not need a win-now piece, Pittman might be the ideal target because the upside and potential is enticing.
It is because I believe he will start slowly in the pros but will eventually become a solid starter that I have Pittman ranked 11th in my class of 2020 receiver rankings. Of course, my rankings today will not look like my rankings by the time the draft comes around and Pittman could rise considerably over the next four months.
Where I have Pittman ranked now would make him a mid-to-late second-round selection in a rookie draft, but like I said before, he’s best suited for a dynasty team that doesn’t need a player who will contribute immediately.