NFL Films/ESPN legend — and one of the best talent evaluators in the business — Greg Cosell has gone through a metric ton of 2020 tape to provide insights on some interesting players headed into the 2021 NFL season. Here, he brings you his raw notes and observations from those tape sessions.
It’s a chance to get inside the mind of one of the greats of the industry.
MICHAEL PITTMAN – ALL PASS TARGETS
Pittman played snaps at boundary X on the backside of trips. He predominantly lined up outside in both 3x1 and 2x2 sets but he became more location versatile as the season progressed.
The Colts used Pittman on predominantly short routes through the first part of the season: slants, whips, tunnel screens…the kind of routes that got him the ball in position to run after catch.
Pittman ran slant and glance routes when he aligned at boundary X. The Colts featured slant-flat and curl-flat concepts to the boundary with the offset back running to the flat and Pittman running the slant or the curl.
Pittman was effective on in-breaking routes with his big body and strong hands. Those types of routes get him the ball on the move where he can use his excellent run-after-catch ability.
Shallow cross from multiple splits was a staple route for Pittman. He showed the play speed and stride length to run away from man coverage.
What consistently stood out watching the Colts’ passing game was how often they ran mirrored routes on each side of the formation.
Pittman was almost exclusively a short and short-to-intermediate route runner in 2020. He ran very few vertical routes.
Pittman has a physical element to his game both as a route runner and as a runner after the catch. He looked big on tape and he presented a physical presence.
I could see Pittman being used more as a boundary x receiver as he continues to develop: He should run more routes (slants and back-shoulder balls) that play to his size and physicality.
Pittman ran some post routes from #2 to trips. His tendency in 2020 was to run intermediate crossers and vertical routes from #2 to trips and from reduced splits at #1. My sense is you will see Pittman run more vertical routes in 2021.
T.Y. HILTON – ALL PASS TARGETS
Hilton still showed excellent route quickness on his vertical stems and excellent separation quickness at the top of his stem. He transitions quickly with a burst out of his breaks.
Hilton lined up in multiple locations in the Colts offense depending on personnel and formation. He played significant outside snaps, including boundary X on the backside of trips and out of the slot — both conventional and inside slot to trips.
Hilton ran multiple routes depending on his location in the offense and he worked at all three levels of the defense.
Hilton still showed the speed to threaten off-coverage corners vertically when he had free access off the LOS and then create separation space on in-breaking and out-breaking routes.
Hilton plays like a veteran receiver, showing the awareness to move into voids in zone coverage and giving his quarterback a passing lane to deliver the football.
Hilton still showed a strong combination of route-running savvy and play speed to get on top of corners on vertical routes. There continues to be a natural quickness to his route running.