AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Michael Pittman Jr.'s Family Genes Primed USC Star for NFL Future

Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. sat patiently for 32 picks. Despite some mock drafts pegging the former USC Trojans standout as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, he was one of many prospects that had to celebrate a day later during Round 2 and Round 3.

Pittman Jr. is one of the top NFL Draft class prospects available on Day 2 in an impressive group that features Georgia running back DeAndre Swift, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs and Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. According to ESPN, he's the second-best wide receiver still waiting to hear his name called behind Clemson's Tee Higgins.

Like many other players in this draft — Joe Burrow and Antoine Winfield Jr. come to mind — Pittman Jr.'s story leading up to this moment flows through his former pro father. It also involves death, which prospects like K'Lavon Chaisson and J.K. Dobbins can sympathize with.

Pittman Jr. Comes From An Athletic Bloodline

RELATED: K'Lavon Chaisson Uses His Dad's Death As Motivation

Pittman Jr. comes from a family in which athleticism runs in the blood.

He starred on the field for Oaks Christian High School in Woodland Hills, California, and emerged as a five-star product rated the No. 21 overall recruit in the nation. His brother, Mycah Pittman, is a wide receiver at Oregon.

Both Pac-12 brothers can thank their father for their football genes. Michael Pittman Sr., who is 44 now, played 11 seasons in the NFL as a running back. After a successful NCAA career at Fresno State, the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the fourth round in 1998.

Pittman Sr. would amass 5,600 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns in more than a decade with the Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. He even won a Super Bowl in 2003 and rushed for 124 yards in Tampa's win over the Oakland Raiders.

"Honestly, the Pittman side of the family, we were blessed with athletic talent," Pittman Sr. told USC Athletics. "I am not trying to sound arrogant, but sometimes in life you have to use your gifts to get ahead and that's what we did. We were not Einsteins or politicians, we were a very athletic family and that's what we did to get scholarships."

That's helped Pittman Jr. navigate his way to the NFL.

As one of the top college football receivers available, he met with many teams and coaches leading up to the week of the draft. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who worked with his father in Tampa, checked in on his dad. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said hello to his former teammate.

"All of them have stories," Michael Jr. told Sports Illustrated. "It's almost like we have a prior connection. It just makes it easier."

Pittman Jr.'s Great Uncle Died of Coronavirus

The Pittman family received sad news less than a month ago.

Michael Pittman's uncle, 61-year-old Sherman Pittman, passed away on March 27 from COVID-19 at a hospital in Chicago, ESPN's Jenna Laine reported. Because of the nature of his virus, he didn't have any family by his side.

Pittman Sr. recalled his uncle, and his son's great uncle, fondly. He told Sports Illustrated that he was a church volunteer and would consistently wish his sons luck before their games.

More than 50,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic and some 900,000 have contracted the virus. Everyone is likely to know someone who has it or had it, and Pittman's instance turned out to be fatal.

That's made Pittman Sr.'s decision to let his son train during the pandemic difficult. He's done so without human interaction, catching invisible passes.

"It's hard for me to tell him, 'Son, stop working so hard,' " Pittman Sr. told Sports Illustrated. "But it's a dangerous time to be outdoors."

Real football or invisible footballs, it shouldn't make a difference. Michael Pittman Jr. wrapped up his senior season by hauling in 11 touchdowns and 1,275 receiving yards. The 6-foot-4 wideout is a proven commodity who should make one NFL team very happy.

MORE: J.K. Dobbins' Father Died In Prison Before He Starred At OSU