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The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
"I'm just trying to take the next step. Last year, I said that I was going to double every single category, and I did that. This year, I'm trying to build on that and become that definite receiver No. 1 that everybody talks about."
Michael Pittman Jr is no stranger to setting the bar high. Entering his third collegiate year, he set the goal of becoming an All-American. In his final collegiate year, he was a second-team Associated Press All-American. He has always lived in the spotlight with heightened expectations; his father had a successful NFL career, and Pittman was the 59th-ranked player in the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports. That did not faze him, though, as he patiently awaited his opportunity, breaking out as a senior at USC and getting drafted two picks after the first round concluded in 2020. Pittman performed well as a rookie (albeit unspectacularly) but took a massive leap forward in his sophomore campaign. He finished 18th in receiving yards, commanded a 25.7% target share, and finished as the WR18 in PPR leagues. His ADP of WR13 projects another leap forward. With the quarterback change, the commitment to running the football, and added target competition, fantasy managers have a lot to ponder before drafting him. But Pittman's sophomore campaign and improving situation indicate that the leap could indeed be coming, and he could finish as a top-12 wide receiver in 2022.
Matt Ryan's Favorite Target
Indianapolis experimented with Carson Wentz for a year before deciding that rehabilitating his quarterbacking skills was not worth the price. They quickly moved for Matt Ryan, who became available when it was apparent that his career trajectory was not matching the Falcons' path forward. Ryan has always favored the top target in the offense without regard for the scheme or offensive coach, and it has translated to success in fantasy football.
Ryan's preference to lean on his most reliable receiver bodes well for Pittman, as he is easily the most proven pass-catcher on the roster. Pushback on talent level is warranted, as Roddy White and Julio Jones were both first-team AP All-Pros at different points of their careers. Ridley and Pitts were both first-round NFL Draft picks. But through their first two seasons, Ridley and Pittman posted similar stat lines, with Ridley significantly ahead in touchdowns (17 to 7). This reality could have looked much different if Pittman's quarterback was Ryan. Harry Douglas makes the case that talent level and draft capital are not at the forefront of Ryan's mind when throwing the football too. Ryan has shown that he will consistently look to the best available wideout, with Douglas' 2013 season on the back of injuries to White and Jones. In examining the career averages of Ryan's top wideouts, it is easy to see the area in which Pittman could improve the most: yardage. The Ryan WR1 has averaged 14.5 yards per reception throughout his career, and Pittman's 12.3 yards per reception clip would rank second-lowest among the group. An increase in Pittman's targets could negate concern over his yardage, but it's more likely that his average target depth will improve from the 79th-ranked 9.8 yards in 2021. Pro Football Reference began tracking aDOT in 2018, and here is where those top targets ranked:
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