Michael Pittman Jr., the 6-4, 223-pound USC receiver who broke out with a 101-catch season in 2019, is just as happy to do the dirty work and dish out rugged blocks on running plays. That's because his father made it clear how much a running back appreciates when a wideout clears the way.
"That's basically what my dad talks about," said Pittman. "He talks about Keyshawn Johnson being his favorite guy because he would throw the best blocks for him. It's always good to block."
Pittman is about to follow Johnson's path from USC to the NFL, and he'll also be following his father into that particular line of work. And both of those paths at one point led to Tampa, where Keyshawn Johnson and Michael Pittman Sr. were teammates on the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers of 2002.
Johnson joined the Buccaneers in 2000 as part of a blockbuster trade with the New York Jets and played in Tampa through the 2003 season. Pittman was one of the key offensive additions made by new Head Coach Jon Gruden in the 2002 offseason, signed as a free agent away from the Arizona Cardinals. In Super Bowl XXXVII, Pittman ran for 124 yards and made a case for game MVP while Johnson led the Buccaneers with six catches for 69 yards. The Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders, 48-21.
Pittman played six seasons in Tampa and ranks sixth in franchise history with 5,723 yards from scrimmage. He also played four seasons with the Cardinals and followed his run with the Buccaneers with one final year in Denver. Michael Jr. was five when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl and 11 when his father played his last year in the NFL. He can recall watching his dad play and knows his resume well, though it wasn't until later that he realized how rare it is to make it to the NFL.
"I remember all of his career but I didn't really appreciate the fact that he played football because that was normal for me," said the younger Pittman. "I thought everybody's dad played football. I didn't really appreciate the fact until after he was done.
"He doesn't really talk about football that much. He's just focused on raising us as kids and he doesn't talk about himself and talk about his past achievements. He's more focused on his kids."
Pittman said his father never pushed he or his three brothers into football or forced them to work out or run routes, but nevertheless all four are now football players. One of Pittman's brothers, Mycah, was a freshman receiver at Oregon last fall. Michael projects as a possible second-round pick in April's draft, though he's part of the deepest class of talented receivers the NFL has seen in many years. As for why he's a receiver instead of a running back like his father, Pittman has an easy answer:
"Because he's six-foot and I'm six-four."
Pittman's game resembles that of star NFL receiver Mike Evans. He is big and strong, with sure hands and the body control to make contested catches. He can beat the press, he is a willing blocker and he's a tireless worker. Of course, the Buccaneers already have Evans, and they also have another star receiver in Chris Godwin, whom they want to lock down with a contract extension soon. Given that, would Tampa Bay really be looking to use a second-day draft pick on a wideout. You can't dismiss the possibility, particularly if Breshad Perriman leaves in free agency.
If the Buccaneers do draft Pittman, he and Pittman Sr. would become the first father-son duo on the team's all-time roster. And if that does happen, the younger Pittman will have his dad to thank for helping him get there.
"There's not a lot of minuses [to having a father in the NFL]," said Pittman Jr. "The only minus is that my dad was gone a lot because he had work. But there were a lot of pluses. He coaches me up about stuff like this and he's helped me get here to this point.
"[His] greatest lesson is, you can never hurt yourself by working as hard as possible. Even if you work hard and fail, you still know that, 'Hey, I did everything possible and it just didn't happen.'"
Pittman's where he is now, as one of 55 players invited to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, where his biggest goal is to show that he has good straight-line speed. There are no doubts about his size or his ability to play a physical style of football but Pittman has worked hard not to be defined by that scouting report. After catching 70 passes and scoring eight touchdowns over the course of his first three seasons at USC he exploded with 101 grabs for 1,275 yards and 11 scores as a senior.
"I just went into my senior year and I didn't want to be the guy who gets open just by pushing people around and throwing people around," he said. "I wanted to show skill and that finesse side. … I can play every single position. I can even be a stand-up Y and I can make all those plays from those different spots. I think that I have the ability to move well. I think I've got quickness and strong hands, and I think that I've got great body control that helps me at the catch point."
That's an attractive scouting report, and if Pittman can prove its true he could significantly improve his draft stock. Either way, he's sure to follow his father into professional football. Whether he also follows that path to Tampa remains to be seen.
As the NFL Combine begins this week, a look at NFL Network Bucky Brooks' 2020 mock draft. Photos by AP Images.