Dynasty Dilemma: Michael Pittman
As August is underway, dynasty start-ups are in full effect. We have rookies settling in at training camp and veterans acclimating to new teams. As dynasty managers, we're taking high-level looks at new offensive systems and how our dynasty rosters are affected by the ever-changing NFL landscape.
A few offenses look much different this year heading into the season. One in particular that I keep revisiting is the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts selected Anthony Richardson with the 4th overall pick in the 2023 draft. There are many unknowns surrounding Richardson heading into the league year, including what this offense will look like with Richardson at the helm. Frank Reich is out, and in comes Shane Steichen. Can Steichen unlock the full potential of this offense? Can Richardson elevate the playmakers around him? Improvements at the quarterback position can take your dynasty assets (RB/WR/TE) to the next level. In the case of the Colts, one player is most impacted by the arrival of Richardson, and that's Michael Pittman.
Dynasty managers are trying to make heads or tails of this offense, and there is a difference between "what it is" and "what it could be." So, I want to ask the hard questions. As a fellow Pittman owner, what should we expect? Is Pittman poised for a career year with what seems to be an upgrade at quarterback? Will the prospective rushing of Richardson cap Colt's ability to produce a top-24 WR this year? And most importantly, as dynasty managers, how should we feel about Pittman's short-term and long-term dynasty values?
I plan to unpack these questions and deeply dive into the dynasty dilemma of Michael Pittman.
REASONS TO BUY
Michael Pittman was drafted at the top of round two in the 2020 NFL draft. Since entering the league, the 6'4" receiver out of USC has had Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett, and Matt Ryan throwing him the ball. Rivers and Ryan deserve respect for their contributions to the game, but they were no longer elite quarterbacks by the time they arrived in Indy. Carson Wentz forgot how to play football upon returning from injury, and Brissett is a great backup but below-average starter.
Enter Anthony Richardson
Richardson was a top-three quarterback prospect (this year) on most industry big boards. Experts gawked at the arm talent, impressive stature, and the absurd numbers he posted at the combine. Most agreed that Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud were more "NFL ready," but Richardson was the quarterback with the highest ceiling. As the clear WR1 in his offense, Pittman projects to benefit tremendously from the quarterback upgrade.
In 2022, the Colts averaged 5.28 NY/A (Net Yards Per Pass Attempt) and 9.7 Y/C (Yards Per Completion). That's good for 30th in the league in both categories. Now, it doesn't take an expert to see that the Colts needed more explosive plays downfield. Richardson is known for two things; his running ability and his massive arm. Pittman recorded a career-best 99 catches last year but finished under 1000 yards. His YPC (Yards Per Catch) went from 12.3 in 2021 to 9.3 in 2022. His longest reception the year was 28 yards; he averaged only 57.8 yards a game. The hope here is that Richardson airs out the ball. If so, we should expect an uptick in the yards category for Pittman this year.
An Offensive-minded Coach, Shane Steichen
Another massive win for Pittman this offseason is the hiring of Shane Steichen. Steichen was the play caller and offensive coordinator for the Eagles' Superbowl run last year. The Eagles' offense last season was dominant, finishing second in total points scored and yards. In the passing game, the Eagles were 9th in yards, and their NY/A (Net Yards Per Pass Attempt) was 7.1 (good for 3rd in the NFL). The offense also produced two top-ten PPR wide receivers in A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith. When looking at how this impacts Pittman, it's simple, a good offense produces fantasy points. The Colts did not take shots downfield last year, which should change under Steichen. Obviously, the personnel is different in Indianapolis than in Philadelphia. Of course, you can not overlook that Jalen Hurts had an MVP-level season, possibly the best offensive line in football; the introduction of A.J. Brown and the second-year development of Devonta Smith were all the right ingredients for this offense to cook. But even with the right ingredients, you need a chef to put it all together, and Steichen was precisely that for the Eagles last season. It will be interesting to see how much his philosophy and schemes carry over from his time in Philadelphia. As dynasty owners, we're hopeful Steichen can work his magic with Richardson as he did with Hurts. We can foresee a more open offensive concept with big play potential downfield and the prospect of opposing Defenses playing up in the box to prevent Richardson from running.
REASONS TO SELL
Currently, the Colts have yet to name a week one starter. If I'm a Pittman owner expecting to compete for a Dynasty title this year, I want to avoid Gardner Minshew getting the week one nod. Minshew followed Steichen to Indianapolis, and in his two starts for Philadelphia last year, Minshew threw for 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 629 passing yards, and had a 57% completion percentage. He is serviceable in a crunch but different from who you want under center. If Richardson's forced to sit for a few games, that would be a severe problem for Pittman and other fantasy-relevant players on the offense. Now, I fully expect Richardson to be the starter entering week one, but that is a situation we must monitor.
Nevertheless, Richardson is Colt's long-term answer at quarterback. While his fantasy outlook is exciting, we have to assume there will be rookie growing pains. Richardson is an elite athlete, and he may progress quicker than expected, but Richardson's immediate upside is his rushing ability. Richardson wasn't considered an accurate passer at Florida, where he only completed 53% of his passes in his final collegiate season. No doubt he can launch the ball, but at the NFL level, inconsistent passes and poor ball placement could allow opposing defenses to feast. Zach Wilson was the only starting quarterback last year with a completion percentage under 60%. I love Anthony Richardson, but if he makes serious noise on your roster this season, he'll be doing it with his legs. That is an undeniable part of his game that will be utilized immediately.
Remember when I said that Pittman was the clear WR1 in his offense? Well, he is for now. Michael Pittman is entering the final year of his rookie deal. In the last two seasons, the Colts have spent multiple third-round picks on TE Jelani Woods and WR Josh Downs, as well as a second-round pick on Alec Pierce. Pierce (drafted in 2022) saw 78 targets in his rookie season. When comparing Alec Pierce's rookie season with Pittman's rookie year, I was surprised that Pierce had more yards, touchdowns, and catches than Pittman did. It would have been near impossible for a receiver to "break out" in this offense last season. Even so, Pierce averaged 14.5 YPC (Yards Per Catch) with an ADOT (Average Depth of Target) of 11.7, compared to Pittman's 9.6 YPC and an ADOT of 6.9. That's a huge difference. And that leads me to my biggest long-term concern with Pittman. Richardson loves the deep ball, which he's best at. Unfortunately for Pittman, I see those balls going to Pierce.
In the last year of his rookie deal, Pittman has never really "wowed" me. Now, that's just my perspective of him as a player. But to me, Pittman lacks elite receivers' separation and the YAC ability. He's a great contested catch guy, but that has yet to translate to touchdowns. Overall, we know what we've got in Pittman, and given the arrival of other receiving options, I see them continuing to cut into Pittman's target share.
It's plain and straightforward here; if Johnathan Taylor sits out the season or is traded, I'm entirely fading the Colt's offense. The JT situation is still fluid, so I don't want to overreact, but he is a top talent. This offense will undoubtedly be better if he is on the field.
Pittman is a sell for me at a cost in Dynasty. I tend to swing for the fences when drafting or trading, and I don't see the upside in Pittman this year. In looking at Dynasty Pros WR rankings, Pittman is ranked WR21 overall. That is one spot behind Christian Watson and two places in front of Deebo Samuel. I have a hard time paying that price for a guy who lacks the potential to finish top 10 at his position. Using the Dynasty Pros trade calculator, if looking to move on from Pittman, you should be able to get back other young assets like Dameon Pierce, Rashaad White, or a winnow piece in Geno Smith. Although Richardson's ceiling is sky-high for fantasy, his passing will take time to develop, and if I'm a Pittman owner in contention, I don't have time to wait. We have to expect rookie growing pains, and I do not feel that is "baked in" to Pittman's current price. We could see new offensive weapons like Josh Downs and Alec Pierce demand targets. I need more certainty for a guy I'm just not that high on, to begin with. For Richardson owners considering Pittman, I'd recommend looking at Alec Pierce and Josh Downs at the current cost.
Sources: Pro Football Reference, Sleeper, Dynasty Pros, Sports Reference, CBS
Nick Godwin has been playing fantasy football since 2010. He grew up right outside of Philadelphia. GO BIRDS!! You may have seen him in Underdog bestball drafts (ALWYSSTDY), or in other draft rooms under Always Steady. He plays fantasy to win and hopes to share his hot takes, talk strategies, and most importantly, help everyone win their championships. He’s always ready to talk all things dynasty, devy, redraft and IDP. As an avid fantasy fan, he spends most of his days mock drafting, getting in to best ball drafts, and preparing to dominate his home leagues.