The 2021 Indianapolis Colts were one win away from clinching a playoff spot going into the season’s final game. Their opponent: the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags were concluding a disaster of a year headlined by the “extra-curricular” activities of their short-lived head coach, Urban Meyer. The lowly Jaguars would go on to stun the Colts’ by beating them 26-11. Indy’s playoff aspirations had been crushed, and their season was over.
After the brutal loss, most blame was directed toward Carson Wentz. It was a shaky season for the veteran quarterback, but the final straw was going 17 of 29 for 185 yards (1 TD, 1 INT) in the most crucial game of the year. The Colts would decide to move on after just one year of Wentz behind center. After trading away Wentz to Washington, Indy quickly acquired Matt Ryan and guaranteed the remaining two years of his contract.
Ryan will bring the consistency and accuracy as a passer that this offense needs to reach the next level. The primary beneficiary will be the top receiver, Michael Pittman Jr.
Michael Pittman Fantasy Football Break Out!
Michael Pittman Jr. was coming off an underwhelming rookie campaign of 40 receptions for 503 yards and 1 TD. However, when you add the context of him missing three games while dealing with compartment leg syndrome (a severe injury that can be life-threatening), it actually seems like a decent performance.
In the 2021 offseason, Indianapolis didn’t invest much into the wideout room, despite reports that they were looking to be aggressive in free agency. This set the stage for Pittman Jr. to be Wentz’s top man, and he did not disappoint. He was the leading receiver with 88 receptions for 1,082 yards and 6 TDs. He also proved he could be an alpha.
Michael Pittman Jr. SKIES for the TD 😦
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 25, 2021
Pittman struggled to find the endzone to start the season but caught fire weeks 5-9, scoring five times during that stretch. Through Week 10, he was the WR7 in fantasy. However, his production took a significant dip from that point on as Wentz’s play went downhill. Unfortunately, Pittman didn’t score a single touchdown between Weeks 10-17. In addition, the entire passing offense was limited down the stretch with just one game of 30 or more pass attempts from Week 11 on (The Colts threw 34+ times in six out of the first ten games). The coaching staff had lost confidence in Wentz, which impacted Pittman’s output to end the year.
Ryan vs. Wentz
A significant factor in projecting Pittman for 2022 is the quarterback upgrade. The consensus would agree that Ryan is better than Wentz, but how much better is he?
|Career Per-Game Stats|
|TD||INT||ATT||YDS||Completion %||Yards Per Attempt|
Comparing the TD/INT ratio puts them pretty close. Still, Matt Ryan has the edge in accuracy and efficiency as a passer. Pittman won’t need a massive bump in targets from Ryan to leap into WR1 territory. We can expect a more efficient receiver with higher quality passes coming from Matt Ryan. According to Pro Football Focus, Wentz had the seventh-highest percentage of passes considered as “Bad throws” in 2021, while Ryan had the fifth-lowest mark among all starters.
With improved quarterback play, Pittman should find more success after the catch. Accurate passes allow receivers to get into a better position to avoid tacklers once they have the ball. Unfortunately, in 2021 with Wentz, he regressed to just 4.0 yards after the catch per reception after averaging 7.3 as a rookie. Putting that in perspective, he would have had an additional 290 yards on top of his 2021 total had he maintained his rookie YAC/reception average.
The 2020 WR prospect class was highly anticipated and regarded as one of the best we’ve seen in decades. However, the jury is still out on some of the top guys from that class. Still, it has already yielded several superstars like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Tee Higgins. Among that class, Pittman ranks sixth in career receiving yards and holds the third-highest catch percentage (WRs with 50+ receptions). If 2021 marked the arrival of Michael Pittman onto the fantasy scene, he will break out in 2022 as an elite fantasy producer.
Most contested catches in a season by a Colts pass catcher since 2016
1️⃣ Michael Pittman Jr (’21): 18
2️⃣ T.Y. Hilton (’18): 16
3️⃣ Eric Ebron (’18): 14
3️⃣ Jack Doyle (’17): 14
5️⃣ Nyheim Hines (’18): 12 pic.twitter.com/5xrGAMa5yR
— PFF IND Colts (@PFF_Colts) June 17, 2022
A Look Inside the Indianapolis Colts
Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to focus on one player, but we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Drew focused on Michael Pittman Jr. in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the Colts, prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse
Matt Ryan: Carson Wentz was borderline QB1 in this offense, and they should be far better in 2022. Consequently, Ryan is a great late-round option and a sleeper in two-QB leagues. -Ryan Weisse
Jonathan Taylor: Do you have the 1.01? Enjoy. If you do not, then you aren’t getting him. History says he won’t repeat as the overall RB1, but he’s still the safest money for a top-5 season. -Ryan Weisse
Nyheim Hines: Hines was quiet in 2021 after a solid 2020. However, coaches are talking him up this offseason, and I can’t imagine they want to run Taylor into the ground. Hines holds value as a great pass-catcher that the team will use in tandem with the best running back in football. You won’t get 2020 again, but it should be better than 2021, and that is worth a late pick. -Ryan Weisse
Alec Pierce: There is not a much better situation for a rookie wide receiver than the one that Pierce finds himself in this year. High enough draft capital that he’ll see the field but not so high that there is a ton of pressure. No real competition for the WR2 role on a team that will throw enough and has a competent QB. He won’t win you your league in 2022, but he could be a solid WR3 in fantasy. -Ryan Weisse
Parris Campbell: Is healthy now? Check again. Are you sure? Rinse and repeat until draft day, then decide if he’s worth a late-round flier. He has shown small flashes, usually followed up with IR stints. -Ryan Weisse
Mo Alie-Cox/Jelani Woods/Kylen Granson: This offense will throw the TE, but they are too risky in fantasy if they continue to split the work. Alie-Cox has the experience, Woods has the draft capital, and Granson has the playstyle. As a result, none are worth a draft pick, but all could be weekly streaming options. -Ryan Weisse
We hope you enjoyed our look at Michael Pittman Jr. for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here if you’re preparing for your dynasty drafts!