Rookie Report Card: Michael Pittman and Salvon Ahmed

Dan Meylor

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, rookie season potential and long term upside.

The series continues with a peek at rookie Michael Pittman and Salvon Ahmed.

Michael Pittman, WR IND

Week Ten Stats: Seven receptions, 101 yards (eight targets), one carry, 21 rushing yards

Throughout his time at USC, Pittman proved himself as a big (6’-4”, 222 pounds), physical possession receiver with the potential to be a dominant short to intermediate number one receiver in the NFL. Catching 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final season on campus, he established himself as a gritty route runner willing to dual with press coverage or go across the middle to make contested catches.

Despite a lack of breakaway speed to uncover in man coverage downfield, Pittman’s vertical game was underrated throughout the draft process because he was known as “just” a possession receiver. Savvy down the field, he showed a knack for finding weak spots in zone coverage and an aptitude for bending vertical routes towards the middle of field in order to create space to work the route back to the boundary before making catches along the sideline.

Each time I watched Pittman in college I couldn’t help but think of former Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks, who also used his size, power and sneaky quickness to overpower or outwit defensive backs and create separation.

Throughout the off-season, Pittman was viewed by dynasty managers as a fringe first-round rookie draft pick. Although his stock rose for many when he landed in Indianapolis as the seventh wide receiver off the board with the second pick in the second round, he continued to fall into the mid to late second round in far too many drafts and on Thursday night against the Titans, he showed why that may have been a big mistake.

After battling through toe and calf injuries early in the season, Pittman was the clear WR1 in the Colts’ win over Tennessee, piling up season highs in receptions (7), yards (101) and targets (8). He led Indianapolis wide receivers in snaps (81%) for the first time and did nothing to lead anybody to believe he shouldn’t remain Philip Rivers’ top option in the second half of the 2020 season.

Running the entire route tree, Pittman caught a quick in, quick out, deep over, slant and short crossing route in the game. For good measure, he even added a quick screen and an end around that went for 21 yards. Lining up all over the field, he dominated the short to intermediate part of the field, held on to tough catches in traffic across the middle on multiple plays and showed impressive speed after the catch on a 39-yard shallow crossing route.

If he hadn’t been stopped just short of the goal line a couple times, dynasty managers might be looking at Pittman’s week ten performance as the biggest breakout of the 2020 NFL rookie class. Fortunately however, his inability to score against the Titans may have extended the buying window for Pittman for a few extra days.

Although he’ll be expensive, Pittman should be seen in the same light as other rookie wideouts Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, Justin Jefferson and perhaps even CeeDee Lamb but because of his later breakout, may still cost a tad less than the others. Recent trades (since his Thursday night performance) include straight-up deals for Brandin Cooks and Hunter Henry and a package of Pittman and a first and second-round pick for Mike Evans. All three are slam dunk deals in my opinion.

Considering his fringe WR2 upside for the rest of 2020 and his low-end WR1 long-term potential, Pittman is the ideal trade target for those looking for a young playmaker at the position. Already taking hold of the WR1 mantle in Indianapolis from TY Hilton, the window to add him may be closed as quickly as after Sunday afternoon’s game against the Packers.

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Salvon Ahmed, RB MIA

Week Ten Stats: 21 carries, 85 yards, one touchdown, one reception, five receiving yards (one target)

Like many dynasty players, I didn’t know much about Ahmed until he came off the Dolphins’ practice squad in week nine to carry seven times for 38 yards. Because he was clearly the best Miami running back against the Cardinals and I was about to make waiver claims leading up to week ten and wanted to know exactly how aggressive to be, I did a little digging.

Interestingly, Ahmed backed up Myles Gaskin – the Dolphins’ current starter – at Washington for a couple of years before starting for the Huskies in his junior season. As the leader in that backfield in 2019, he carried 188 times for 1,020 yards and 11 touchdowns before declaring early for the NFL draft.

In his time on campus, Ahmed proved himself as an undersized (5’-11, 197 pounds) but shifty back with upside to contribute as a receiving tailback at the next level, catching 50 passes in his three seasons at Washington for 331 yards. While some also thought his explosiveness and speed could translate into a change of pace role in the right offense, a lackluster combine that included a sluggish 4.62 40-yard dash seemed to eliminate that potential. But after the 49ers signed and released Ahmed and he landed in Miami, he’s continued to work his way up the Dolphins’ depth chart until he got his chance.

He’s made the most of it.

In two games, Ahmed has piled up 123 rushing yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and has looked explosive throughout. His vision and decision-making has been impressive and his ability to cut back quickly and get upfield has been as good as or better than any other Dolphins tailback this season.

Although it’s a small sample size, Ahmed has been impressive in his first two games as a pro and at the very least, should be seen as a threat to eat into Gaskin’s workload once he returns so there is the potential for some rest of season upside with the rookie – particularly if Gaskin has a setback.

With that said, however, Miami is considered one of the top landing spots for a free agent or rookie running back in the 2021 off-season so it’s unlikely Ahmed carries much value entering next season. If possible, dynasty managers that added him last week should take anything they can on the trade market for Ahmed.

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dan meylor