With his skills, Michael Pittman would add new dimension to the 49ers' passing game

The overwhelming consensus is the San Francisco 49ers must address wide receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft, with three names dominating the discussion since they traded for the 13th overall pick.

Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and the Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III suddenly became possibilities for San Francisco in the wake of the DeForest Buckner trade that landed the Niners a top-15 selection.

However, USC's Michael Pittman has been the recipient of late buzz and is a receiver who could potentially be available with the 31st overall pick or even if they trade back from that second first-round selection.

[LIPINSKI: The case for the 49ers to stay at No. 13, and trade back from No. 31 in 2020 draft]


As Akash Anavarathan detailed in a recent piece, Pittman fits the athletic profile 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has historically looked for at receiver. He excelled in the 3-cone drill and the short shuttle at the Scouting Combine and is the ninth-ranked SPARQ athlete in the 2020 wideout class.

Athleticism is just one part of the equation, though, and the question of whether the 49ers should consider Pittman hinges on how his skill set fits with their offense.

There is plenty to suggest Pittman is a player who deserves to be on San Francisco's radar. Shanahan favors receivers who possess the ability to run the full route tree, create separation early in the route and pick up yardage after the catch.

Pittman has the foot quickness to win early against man coverage, which he did in USC's game with Utah last season.

On this fourth-quarter play, Pittman moves the chains with a short catch after combining a jab step and clever hand usage to gain separation over the middle.

Pittman's agility was crucial to his most significant play of the Utah game, a 77-yard touchdown on which he subtly faked a post-route to create extra separation from the corner before high-pointing to beat the deep safety to the ball and taking it to the house.

His skills at the catch point would provide an added dimension to the 49ers' passing game. Pittman is extremely competitive and physical at the catch point and displays the body control to adjust to the football.

He did just that in the win over Utah. On this route in the first quarter, Pittman finds the ball early and uses his hands to create extra space to allow him to make an athletic catch for a 26-yard gain.

The combination of Pittman's route-running craft and his physicality at the catch point came to the forefront on his second touchdown against BYU. Pittman again successfully sold an inside move and then made the reception in the endzone despite falling backward with a defender draped over him.

The concentration Pittman displays when catching the ball is a key feature of his game and was exemplified by his first touchdown against Colorado last year.

Despite knowing the deep safety was coming across to try to make a hit to dislodge the ball, Pittman remained completely focused on looking it into his grasp, bringing it in with late hands.

Of course, Pittman does not come without his flaws. He lacks top-level speed and the fluidity he displayed in his movement as a route-runner has not translated to elusiveness in the open field.


Indeed, instances where Pittman has gained significant yardage after the catch has come as a result of him having space to run into, rather than him consistently making people miss.

There may also be concern over Pittman's route tree at USC, which was lacking in variation beyond the straight-line downfield and comeback routes that were a staple of the Trojans' passing game. It is also tough to project how he will fare against press coverage, having faced little of it in the Pac-12.

His route tree may have been simplistic, but the intricacies Pittman demonstrated in running those routes should provide encouragement he would be able to adapt to what Shanahan asks of his receivers.


[CROCKER: Re-evaluating CeeDee Lamb as a 2020 prospect, option for the 49ers at No. 13]

The X-factor, however, is what Pittman does at the catch point. Though Kendrick Bourne has established himself as a reliable receiver on third down and in the red zone, other than tight end George Kittle the 49ers do not have a pass-catcher who they can lean on to win fights for the football on a regular basis.

Wideouts who dominate in contested-catch situations do not typically fit the Shanahan mold. There may be some concern about his skills after the catch, but Pittman checks enough boxes in terms of his route-running and ability to win early to be considered an exception.


Receiving corps cannot be entirely comprised of the same type of player. Pittman would provide the 49ers with something they do not have at the position and he deserves to be in Shanahan and John Lynch's thoughts further down the draft should they ultimately decide to go in another direction at No. 13.


Media courtesy USC Athletics Follow Nicholas McGee and Fourth and Nine on Twitter

With a desire to educate and spark conversation, Fourth and Nine offers informed opinions, detailed player analysis, discussion around team-building strategies, and comprehensive year-round draft coverage, all with a unique tie to the San Francisco 49ers. It is the only site of its kind bringing this package of team-specific analysis.

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