INDIANAPOLIS — USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. only knew football as a child. In fact, he thought all dads were NFL players.
It’s that upbringing that molded Pittman into the player who put up 101 catches for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
He said his father, an NFL running back, coaches him about the game often and has helped him through this pre-draft process. Of all the things he’s heard from his father about the NFL, he said the one thing that sticks with him is work ethic.
“The greatest lesson I learned was that you can never hurt yourself by working as hard as possible because if you work hard and fail, you still know you did everything possible and it just didn’t happen,” Pittman Jr. said Tuesday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
It was that attitude that resulted in Pittman doubling his statistics nearly across the board from 2018 to ‘19. At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, he said he knew in order to get to the next level that has been attached to his family name for years, he couldn’t just be another big wide receiver. To separate himself from that narrative and stigma, he worked tirelessly in the offseason on his route running and fluidity in and out of his breaks.
“I went into my senior year saying that I didn’t want to be the guy who just gets open by pushing people around,” Pittman said. “I wanted to show skill and that finesse side of my game.”
Pittman modeled his game after four different players — Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas and Keyshawn Johnson — and showed this fluid, smooth side of his skill set that was hidden until his senior year. He specifically mentioned Marshall and Evans for their size and ability to consistently win at the catch point; Thomas for his inside-out versatility and route running prowess and Johnson for his physicality, strong hands, and blocking mentality.
By studying the different elements of what they bring to the table, he can better locate his own weaknesses on film, and ultimately, what he needs to improve upon before the upcoming draft to join the discussion of top-tier wide receiver prospects.
“Getting into the route because I feel like I do a good job getting out of the route,” Pittman said. “So I’m working on some different footwork stuff at the line of scrimmage and getting low so I can speed up at the top of the route.”
One of the biggest reasons for that being a top priority on his training schedule is because he rarely faced press man coverage in the Pac-12, and in the reps where he did, especially at the Senior Bowl, he struggled to get a clean release and keep himself free on his route.
Now, in Indianapolis, Pittman wants to show scouts his progress as a diverse route runner who can be a threat at all three levels of the field. With his size and production, he understands the narrative that he’s a red-zone threat who can’t separate, but he wants everyone to know he’s not your typical big-bodied wide receiver.
Pittman’s prediction for the 40-yard dash is to beat his father’s time of 4.5 seconds, which he said would squash the doubts about his straight-line speed. If he tests as well as he said he will and keeps the same work ethic that drove his improved production at USC, I believe Pittman will not only follow in his father’s footsteps of reaching the NFL but that he will pave his own way as a legitimate difference-maker in the league for years to come.