Buy Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. as Late-Round Fantasy Football Picks
The unquestioned number-one receiver for the Indianapolis Colts remains T.Y. Hilton, and colleague Ryan McCrystal discussed his 2020 fantasy outlook with Philip Rivers replacing Jacoby Brissett as the club's starting quarterback. But can the offense support more than one fantasy-relevant receiver?
Second-year pro, Parris Campbell and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. stand out as the most likely candidates to make a splash in fantasy behind Hilton. Each comes with prospect fanfare after being selected in the second round of their respective draft classes. Are either of them -- or both -- worth a dice roll with a late-round selection in fantasy drafts?
Number-Two Receivers Playing With Rivers
Rivers has a stellar track record of guiding more than one receiver to fantasy relevance. He's no spring chicken, but even in the twilight of his career, that's been the case. Look at his last three years.
From Week 1 through Week 16 last season in point per reception (PPR) formats, Keenan Allen finished eighth among receivers in fantasy points and Mike Williams finished 39th, according to FantasyPros. In 2018, Allen finished 11th at the position in fantasy points while Williams finished 31st. In fact, that season he produced another top-50 receiver with Tyrell Williams finishing 48th at the position in fantasy scoring. In 2017, Allen finished third among receivers in PPR fantasy points and Tyrell Williams finished 48th.
Going back to the 2014 and 2015 seasons when Rivers first played with his new head coach, Frank Reich, -- who was serving as his offensive coordinator then -- he also led more than one receiver to useful fantasy output. In 2015, Rivers was dealt an unlucky hand at receiver with Allen playing in only eight games due to injury and his second-most productive receiver from a per-game perspective, Steve Johnson, limited to only 10 games due to injury as well.
Allen was sixth among receivers in per-game scoring that year, and Johnson ranked 33rd at the position in per-game scoring, too. Rivers spread the wealth at receiver in 2014 with Allen finishing 30th at receiver in PPR scoring and Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal tying for 34th.
During all of the aforementioned seasons, Rivers didn't lack for strong pass-catching alternatives at other positions, either. Among the notable non-receivers Rivers chucked the pigskin to during those seasons was Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Danny Woodhead at running back and Antonio Gates -- namely in 2014 and 2015 as opposed to when he was a shell of himself in 2017 and 2018 -- and Hunter Henry at tight end.
In other words, the presence of pass-catching back Nyheim Hines, the potential of rookie running back Jonathan Taylor being incorporated into the passing attack, and safety-blanket tight end Jack Doyle don't preclude a second receiver from helping fantasy teams in 2020 -- as long as Rivers still has something in the tank.
Last year after the surprising retirement of Andrew Luck, Reich drastically changed the offense with Brissett leading the way. When the scoring margin for the Colts was between trailing or leading by six points last season, they tied for passing at the second-lowest percentage at 52 percent, per Sharp Football Stats. Comparatively, with the same score margin in 2018, the Colts tied for the second-highest percentage of pass plays at 65 percent.
If Rivers is unable to rebound from his lackluster 2019 performance, Reich could opt to lean heavily on the run again this year. However, their decision to sign Rivers to a lucrative one-year deal indicates they believe he can still be a productive passer. Does that mean they could revert back to their extremely pass-happy ways from 2018? Maybe, but tempering expectations to somewhere between the two extremes is probably the wisest move.
Supporting the notion of splitting the difference, with Reich as the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, they tied for the eighth-highest passing percentage (59 percent) when the scoring margin was between trailing or leading by six points. In 2016 with Reich serving in the same role and under the same score margin, the Eagles tied for the 15th-highest passing percentage at 60 percent.
The 2019 NFL Draft class of receivers turned heads with some banner performances. The 59th pick, Parris Campbell, wasn't among the rookie wideouts who balled out. His season was limited to only seven games due to a variety of injuries that were capped off with a season-ending broken foot. The good news is he's healthy and, according to ESPN staff writer Mike Wells, has "been running routes at full speed for the last two months."
Back in late January, Jim Ayello penned a piece for the Indianapolis Star that looked back at Campell's injuries and included a variety of quotes from the young receiver discussing the injuries. Among some of the other interesting nuggets included in Ayello's piece were a vote of confidence for Campbell from general manager Chris Ballard and praise from the coaching staff.
Wide receivers coach Kevin Patullo, specifically, called Campbell a "quick study." Further, Campbell reportedly alleviated concerns regarding his niche usage with the Ohio State Buckeyes and what it meant for his ability to run a full route tree.
As you can see in this linked YouTube video starting at the nine-minute and 44-second mark -- prior to the Colts selecting Campbell -- Patullo voiced seeing Campbell running a few routes on tape and possessing the physical traits to be coached up in that area. Colts' area scout Chad Henry gushed about Campbell's speed and his ability with the ball in his hands. Also, Reich's infatuation with Campbell is abundantly clear.
Anyone else ever randomly think about Parris Campbell's ridiculous speed?
Good, glad we aren't alone.@PCampbell21 | @OhioStateFB pic.twitter.com/UIfGY7ZPDw
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) April 29, 2020
He also flashed his wheels in the preseason on a slant route against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Parris Campbell turns on the JETS. #INDvsCIN
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 29, 2019
Back in camp, Campbell showed off his ability to create separation near the end zone on this play.
Not often a guy creates this amount of separation in this part of the field.
Hello, Parris Campbell. pic.twitter.com/OpC4HxydM7
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) July 28, 2019
In isolation, a camp highlight doesn't mean much. But he demonstrated similar ability to create separation in the red zone when it mattered in a regular season game when he scored his first career touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
1st career touchdown for @Colts rookie WR Parris Campbell! @PCampbell21 #Colts #INDvsTEN
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/y8YLGKmeTf pic.twitter.com/nKaSSWhlW4
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2019
His ability to get open in that area of the field clearly wasn't lost on the coaching staff. Despite playing in only seven games, his five targets -- all of which he hauled in -- in the red zone ranked tied for fifth on the club last season.
Last year, Campbell ran 39.3 percent of his routes from the slot, per PlayerProfiler. According to Reich, he'll "play more slot" this year. Campell's average depth of target in 2019 was 8.0 yards, according to Sports Info Solutions. To put that depth in perspective, Robert Woods' average depth of target was 7.9 yards and Michael Thomas' was 8.1 yards. Slot wideouts Cooper Kupp (7.0 yards), Cole Beasley (7.6 yards), Jamison Crowder (7.8 yards), and Larry Fitzgerald (7.9 yards) were also in the same vicinity of average depth of target last year.
Similar usage this year would allow Campbell to reel in high-percentage throws and rack up yards after catch while displaying the ability with the ball in his hands the team was enamored with when selecting him. Although with the eye-popping speed and burst scores Campbell possesses that can be seen on his PlayerProfiler page, there's room for him to also take the top off of defenses with vertical usage.
Michael Pittman Jr.
The Colts went back to the wideout well in this year's NFL Draft selecting Michael Pittman Jr. with the second pick in the second round (34th overall pick). He adds a much different element to the receiving corps than Hilton and Campbell bring to the table. Pittman Jr.'s a big target measuring 6-foot-4 and weighing 223 pounds at the NFL Draft Combine. Pittman Jr.'s not a slow-footed big-body receiver, either. He ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine, and, coupled with his size, that puts his speed score in the 93rd percentile, per PlayerProfiler.
Rivers took a liking to heaving YOLO balls to another massive receiver the last couple of years with the Los Angeles Chargers. As I noted above, Mike Williams finished 39th at receiver in PPR scoring in 2019 and 31st in 2018. Williams, like Pittman Jr., is 6-foot-4 and weighed a few pounds lighter at 218 pounds.
However, he didn't run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine back in his draft year in 2017. He did run it at his pro day, and after PlayerProfiler adjusted his time to 4.59 seconds to account for the average hand-timed 40-yard dash time being 0.05 seconds faster than its electronically-timed counterpart, his speed score ranked in the 75th percentile.
Williams' rookie season was plagued by injuries before his fantasy emergence in 2018. Rivers looked to his young receiver as a field-stretching option each of the last two years. Out of receivers and tight ends targeted a minimum of 50 times, Williams' average depth of target of 14.5 yards in 2018 was 10th deepest and his average depth of target of 17.3 yards last year was the deepest, according to Sports Info Solutions. It's not a given Pittman Jr. will be used in the same fashion, but the physical similarities are hard to ignore.
Kevin Hickey of Colts Wire compiled a collection of scouting reports for Pittman Jr. from prospect evaluators Dane Brugler of The Athletic, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, Jacob Infante of Draft Wire, Josh Norris of Rotoworld, Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network, and Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus. Scouting is subjective, but four of the reports referred to Pittman Jr. as a possession receiver, four noted his physicality and five lauded his ball skills.
Brugler and Renner also pointed to how sure-handed Pittman Jr. is. To that point, Brugler said he recorded "only two drops on 140 targets in 2019," and Renner stated he "dropped a grand total of five passes on 176 catchable over the course of his career." Ben Fennell of multiple NFL homes also praised Pittman Jr.'s strong hands, tracking ability, and the way he plays through contact in the following tweet.
I'm not sure where USC WR Michael Pittman (6'4 223 4.52) gets drafted... I could see anywhere from #25 to #75, tbh
Plays thru contact so damn well - at LOS, within route stem & at catch point. Strong hands/tracking. And that special teams value is an added treat! #2020NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/8SFHf5eQFB
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 22, 2020
Todd McShay of ESPN is another prospect evaluator who spoke highly of Pittman Jr.
I would bet on Michael Pittman Jr. pic.twitter.com/z79kXj7Xk1
— Todd McShay (@McShay13) February 7, 2020
The following pair of highlight videos showcase Pittman Jr.'s ability to elevate over defenders for jump balls, lending a reason to believe Rivers could enjoy throwing 50/50 balls to him in much the same way he did flinging them to Williams.
USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. is a serious jump ball winner. Does a great job high pointing the football. He's entering the draft coming off of a breakout senior year as well:
- Led Pac-12 in receptions (101)
- Led Pac-12 in receiving yards (1275) pic.twitter.com/kUhM2AuTu5
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) January 11, 2020
In jump ball situations, #Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. is so disrespectful towards defensive backs. pic.twitter.com/Z425wW4K7I
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) April 27, 2020
In addition to it being the second year in a row the Colts snapped up a receiver in the second round, it's the second year in a row Reich was totally in love with the receiver they selected.
Find someone to love you the way Frank Reich loves Michael Pittman.
“From the first time I watched him I’ve loved him
I got on this guy early & I’m having a hard time letting go of him
I’m not sure he’s not the best receiver in the draft
He can have a big impact in year one” pic.twitter.com/IKItgZ3g8W
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) April 30, 2020
Of note, numerous clips in Warren Sharp's tweet were time-stamped March 29, well in advance of the team selecting Pittman Jr. Put another way, Reich's effusive praise of Pittman Jr. isn't simply pom-pom waving after the team already drafted him. Reich has a fit in the offense in mind for Pittman Jr., and he went as far as to state a belief in him having a "big impact in year one."
On average between MFL10 and RTSports best-ball drafts, Pittman Jr. has an average draft position (ADP) of 148.5, and Campbell's is 207.5, according to FantasyPros. Their ADP's put them at WR55 and WR72, respectively.
The expert consensus rankings for PPR formats at FantasyPros aren't a far cry off from their ADP in best-ball formats. Pittman Jr.s' overall average is 161.9, good for WR65. Campbell checks in just a spot lower at WR66 with an overall average rank of 212.0. I'm higher than my pundit peers on both, ranking Pittman Jr. as my WR52 and Campbell narrowly behind at WR58.
The numberFire projections have Pittman Jr. hauling in approximately 40 receptions on 67 targets for 518 receiving yards and 3.23 touchdown receptions. Campbell's projected for roughly 457 yards from scrimmage, 35 receptions, 58 targets, and nearly three offensive touchdowns. Both have upside beyond their modest projections.
I like both as late-round targets and am not opposed to selecting the duo on the same fantasy squad in the hopes of one earning clear-cut number-two receiver status early and providing value well beyond their fantasy draft cost. Further, I'm routinely scooping them up in best-ball formats. In 24 best-ball drafts to date (11 conducted pre-NFL Draft and 13 post), I've selected Campbell six times (two pre-NFL Draft and four post) and Pittman Jr. three times (all post-NFL Draft).