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Why Indianapolis Colts ‘Fell in Love’ with Wide Receiver Michael Pittman Jr.

It wasn’t just the big plays and contested catches that impressed Indianapolis Colts coaches and scouts. Second-round selection Michael Pittman Jr. also showed how polished he was when the football wasn’t thrown his way.

INDIANAPOLIS — In analyzing a deep wide receiver class for months before April’s NFL draft, Indianapolis Colts coaches and scouts were implored to keep scouring game film.

It’s easy to notice when a college star is making the big plays, but there’s something to be said for being able to spot a well-rounded player who excels with versatility. The Colts needed a pass-catcher with size who could also run precise routes, fend off physical press coverage, high-point passes for contested receptions, and be willing to throw key blocks.

That’s why the Colts came away convinced that USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., had an NFL-ready polish. It’s what one might expect from the son of an NFL running back of the same name. No matter how much tape the Colts studied, Pittman stayed consistent in all areas.

The Colts were thrilled about selecting Pittman, who can do it all at 6-4 and 223 pounds, in the second round with the 34th overall pick.

“(Assistant general manager) Ed Dodds always presses us to watch more, watch more, watch more, watch more than just the target tape,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said in a recent Zoom video conference call.

Sirianni often teamed up in those study sessions with new wide receivers coach Mike Groh, who was a fellow Philadelphia Eagles assistant with Colts head coach Frank Reich.

“Coach Groh and I spent a lot of time in his workroom and in my basement talking through these receivers,” Sirianni said. “We’ve watched everything you can imagine. Not only the target tapes, but the blocking tapes, and the press tapes where it’s not always going to him.

“I think that’s where we fell in love with this guy. Not only did he impress on his target tape – obviously 101 catches his senior year was very impressive — but it’s the other stuff he does. It’s the ‘Zach Pascal, Jack Doyle’ stuff he does – the toughness, the consistency. That was what was exciting. Obviously, a great phenomenal football player with the ball in his hands and when the ball is coming to him, but a lot of special qualities that he had that separated him from other wideouts that we evaluated when the ball wasn’t going to him.”

Doyle, a Pro Bowl tight end, as well as Pascal, a former undrafted wide receiver, are singled out for making plays that often go unnoticed, particularly when they are required to block.

The Indianapolis Colts were impressed with USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr's all-around talents, which includes what he does when the football isn't thrown his way. That's why he was selected in the second round of April's NFL draft.

Michael Pittman Jr. had 101 catches for 1,275 yards and 11 TDs as a USC senior.

That’s why Sirianni sounded so excited in the Colts Productions’ behind-the-scenes “With the Next Pick” video, which showed the ecstatic coordinator gushing about Pittman’s selection. Reich chuckled when asked about Sirianni’s exuberance in that video.

The plan is for Pittman Jr. to play the “X” receiver spot, which means he can line up solo on the outside when other receivers are stacked on the opposite side. The idea is to isolate the rookie in man-to-man coverage to provide him opportunities to make plays.

“(We) believe he can develop into that pretty quickly,” Reich said. “He is obviously going to have to prove that, but we are optimistic that he will.

“There are a handful or routes that you want to throw to him. So yeah, you think about those things when you pick a guy. You think, ‘Okay, we can throw these five things to him.’ Those things come to you right away.”

How does Pittman’s role mesh with the other wide receivers, such as second-year Parris Campbell? The Colts reiterate the importance of versatility.

“I think the offensive staff does a really good job – we work really hard at moving guys around,” Reich said. “So (Pittman) will be the ‘X’ receiver, but we are still going to get T.Y. (Hilton) where we can get him. We are still going to continue to develop Parris. Zach Pascal is going to be – he is a big part of what we are doing. So we are going to move guys around.

“We are going to continue to always do that, but we do envision Michael as that ‘X’ receiver, that every now and then you can just say, ‘Hey, they are playing a lot of man-coverage. Let’s put him into the boundary and throw on-on-one and expect him to win.’”

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is