The Great Indianapolis Debate: Who's WR2?
Andrew Woodruff / @ff_awwoodruff33
There is an issue brewing for owners looking at the Indianapolis Colts. It has nothing to do with the amazing upside of Jonathan Taylor taking over and being a top-end RB maybe even in 2020. No, the bigger question many are asking involves the passing game. Who will be the next receiver behind TY Hilton? Is it the new “shiny toy” rookie Michael Pittman Jr. or the second-year receiver Parris Campbell. Many have already jumped to the new guy as the one worth grabbing based on what I have been seeing in the fantasy community, but I wanted to explore it further before picking a side.
I will start by breaking down the incumbent with Parris Campbell. Campbell came from Ohio State where the offense made some major changes over his time there. Once he started seeing regular action in his sophomore year, the stats did not really pop off the page. Neither does his junior year.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
That was weird so I looked more into it for better context and the findings made sense with the stats. Both years saw JT Barrett as the starting quarterback for the majority of the two seasons. 2016 did not even see the team break three thousand passing yards. 2017 saw a slight uptick as Barrett just broke the mark and Dwayne Haskins added five hundred more. In 2016, no receiver really stood out except for Curtis Samuel who was more of a gadget weapon for the team. Campbell definitely had some concerns that year with a low catch rate; it drastically improved from there though. In 2017, Campbell made the most of his targets as his production outshined that of Terry McLaurin and KJ Hill among others. JT Barrett as a quarterback was more of a dual-threat athlete so the team limited his passes and used the running game over that time. Even with his great speed, Campbell was used as an underneath route runner mostly in 2018 still to help Haskins with a security blanket. He used the targets to showcase his ability after the catch as he used his speed to gain additional yards.
(Photo Credit: Pro Football Reference)
With each year, he also improved on his biggest concern which was drops. During a very limited rookie season, he only dropped one pass while posting a high catch rate when looking at the catchable targets he saw. He saw only forty-three percent of the snaps as he dealt with several random injuries, but thirty-nine percent were from the slot. A full offseason after learning the system last year should only improve the chances that he can find more playing time. The targets again will probably not be focused on getting deep passes, but Campbell should be ready to use his explosiveness to get yardage. The last thing I will discuss is the injuries for Parris Campbell. The only issue I found from his college days was an ankle injury in 2016 with no issues of repetition anywhere. With the unfortunate year in 2019, he did see a hamstring strain, a hand fracture, a foot fracture, and an abdominal strain. Two fractures in the same season is a little random and concerning according to Dr. Edwin Porras (go follow his work he posts on Twitter @FBInjuryDoc) and is helping look more at that when he can.
Michael Pittman Jr:
Now to look at the man many people are interested in with Michael Pittman Jr. It was not until his sophomore year that Pittman saw action worth discussing for this debate. It is encouraging to see how in his sophomore and junior years that he had such a large number for his yards per reception. What is concerning though is how far off his catch rate was over those two seasons.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Especially in 2018 with seventy-eight targets. So time to go and look at what was happening. USC was transitioning from Sam Darnold to rely on JT Daniels for most of 2018. That already was a bad start as the team struggled with a sixty-percent completion percentage. However, Pittman still was overshadowed by his teammates Tyler Vaughns and the freshman sensation Amon-Ra St. Brown who led the whole team. In 2019, Pittman used the talent of his teammates to really take a big jump by posting his best stats and lead the team while also improving his catch rate with a better quarterback.
Some of the better attribute reports talk of for Pittman include his hands and ability to be physical at getting the football. That is useful for his frame and playing with fifty-fifty balls. He can play in traffic thanks to his skills and may even be used in the slot some. He also is a better blocker coming out of college than what Parris Campbell showed. However he does come with some concerns such as working against press coverage. His speed will not help in that area or for work as a downfield threat either. The team may have to help scheme him open too as he needs polish on separating in routes to do much after the catch too. The most recent injury concern I have seen for Pittman Jr is the foot injury that occurred at the Senior Bowl this year which now seems to be in the past. Over his college career, he did deal with a high ankle sprain to miss the start of the 2017 season, a collarbone injury, hand, shoulder (lacked clarity so may be the collarbone or ac joint), and ac joint sprain on the same shoulder. The man does come with some risk since he will use his playstyle to be physical causing more wear and tear on his shoulder which already has taken some damage before. Dr. Porras is also looking but sees the injuries more random than a current pattern of risk from the brief talk. With more analysis, he can clarify that.
Possibly an even bigger concern than which receiver to own is what to even hope for with the Colts now that Andrew Luck is gone. Currently going into the 2020 season, the team has Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason, and Chad Kelly. With the moves the team has made this year, they are looking to go all-in for a playoff run so we can expect the starter to be involved to make it successful. The team does not see Brissett as the answer so I will focus on the question mark surrounding Rivers for this exercise.
The key to Rivers is remembering the team will focus on establishing the run to help the rest of the offense (Shameless plug that JT is the answer for that by midseason if not sooner). With the strength of the linemen in front of him and the running backs taking pressure away, Rivers should see more success than what he had last year. That part needs to be clarified some as I do not see Rivers exceeding his passing yardage, but his efficiency can help with some more completions, touchdowns, and fewer interceptions. That alone can help Rivers finish as a higher level QB2 if not a sneaky selection of a late QB1 if the team is super effective. Another thing that is not mentioned is how the team had the seventh most drops last season with 31! 31 passes were dropped that could have greatly helped his performance.
Next for Rivers, I wanted to look at how he was asked to throw with the Chargers for the past five seasons and how that can be translated to his new team. People were complaining of his deep ball last season with the many Mike Williams truthers disappointed, including myself. However, the majority of his passes will be less than ten yards as his average passes were underneath fifteen yards to his guys Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen.
Now we need to see what that looks like with the 2020 Colts by comparing the throws by Jacoby Brissett from the past two seasons.
The similarities between these two guys is great to see for Rivers as the offense will let him target the field in similar ways to what he already was doing in the past. And Brissett’s accuracy issues were worse off than Rivers meaning the offense should see better progress thanks to the change. The signs point to the team increasing their attempts for Rivers more than the low 513 attempts from last year. While the team will probably not go crazy pass-heavy, a number around 560-575 attempts can happen. Kevin Hickey, a ColtsWire writer, mentioned in his Philip Rivers outlook article that the team is an above .500 win team which is good because historical data shows those teams will average around a pass-to-run ration around a 55:45 split.
The last thing with Rivers is he is not starting over from scratch in 2020. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the normal schedule of teams training that is important. The head coach Frank Reich and Offensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni were actually a part of the Chargers staff with Rivers in the past. That is great as Reich pointed out saying Rivers already knows probably about 85% of the playbook letting him focus on learning the rest. There is also trust already built between the coach and quarterback so they will help him find the looks he is good at and plays that tailor to Rivers. Speaking so much of the coaches, the staff is the last part we need to look into for the team overall.
Past 2020, the current answer to the position seems to be Jacob Eason as the heir. Depending on how Rivers does this season, he may play next season as well if the team is doing well. This will allow Eason to develop more with how to play in that system or for it to adapt to his skills like his arm strength. For now, the team would probably rely on the run game and play-action which should keep him useful for the offense if he must start any sooner.
Under Frank Reich, the Colts had two very different seasons between 2018 and 2019 with the different quarterbacks that were playing. To get a better understanding of what may come, I pulled up his past experience for some insight. Coaches establish tendencies, and at the NFL level they trust their systems since they made it that far. Looking at his past with the Chargers (with Rivers), Eagles, and Colts shows that most seasons end up with almost 600 attempts showing a pass percentage closer to 60%. The outlier from everything is actually last season as that offense struggled in multiple ways. Expect that to change in 2020.
(Photo Credit: RotoViz)
I thought a better part to focus on was how the team will look at the passing game and started to explore the internet to see what it holds. Thankfully, I found a very fun and short film study with offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. It is not from this year, but again coaches do not change too much from what they enjoy using. In it, he stressed using 12 personnel which is two tight ends with one running back. That leaves one-on-one matchups against most defenses and will allow quick throws for Rivers. The part I really liked was what came next as he talked about the team trying to get the playmakers (he stressed fast guys) the ball within five yards in ways that let them gain a lot more after the catch. Hilton will see many of those, but his age could dial back a few of those targets. He also wants to use 11 personnel to gain the matchups again, but that may not be the outside WR2 since the slot receiver, tight end, and running back may have more favorable matchups against a linebacker or safety. It is well worth listening to the coach if you want to hear it yourself at:
Based off what is happening with the NFL this year, I would go with Parris Campbell over Michael Pittman Jr. for dynasty leagues. I really thought Pittman would be the better guy but the athletic factors show not much separates them on the majority of the metrics as Campbell is faster, but Pittman is bigger. The concerns exist though with Pittman not being able to separate, and I am wary of his college production as he was outproduced most years except when teams were trying to shut down Amon-Ra St. Brown this past season. Even when Pittman had more experience, Amon-Ra St. Brown stole the show as a freshman quickly forcing teams to focus on the better receiver.