In what has been characterized as one of the deepest draft classes for the wide receiver position…well, perhaps ever, the Pittsburgh Steelers made sure that they harvested that talented at the earliest possibility, staying put at their top pick to draft Notre Dame’s rather large specimen, Chase Claypool.
The fourth wide receiver in as many years to be taken by the Steelers between the middle of the second round and the very beginnings of the third, Claypool expands the team’s depth at the critical skill position to at least four players that they will believe that they can count upon.
And he offers something nobody else on the team offers at the position: size. At 6’4” and clocking in at 229 pounds, according to his bio on the team’s website, he has got to be one of the bigger receivers the team has ever drafted when factoring in both height and weight. In fact, some argued he projects better as a move tight end.
That’s not how the Steelers intend to use him, according to offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Brooke Pryor of ESPN quoted him as saying that “he’s an outside player first”, meaning that he is expected to play on the boundaries working against outside cornerbacks, though he allowed that he “shows an ability to play in the slot as well”.
Fichtner on Claypool: “gives you a potential red zone threat. he’s an outside position player first that shows an ability to play in the slot as well.”
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) April 25, 2020
Of the team’s top four wide receivers, their top target, JuJu Smith-Schuster, is the only one who profiles as a slot weapon. He saw a career-high in percentage of snaps lined up from the slot last season while primarily playing with James Washington and Diontae Johnson, so expect that to continue to be the case with Claypool coming in.
As is no surprise, Fichtner also referred to the Notre Dame product as a red-zone threat, something that the Steelers should be coveting after they finished last in the league in 2019 as an offense converting trips inside the red zone into touchdowns. Free agent signing Eric Ebron will also factor there.
With Ben Roethlisberger returning, he now has three big-bodied, tall receiving threats to target in the end zone with Vance McDonald, Ebron, and the rookie Claypool. Though raw, he should find ways to contribute, as Martavis Bryant did back in 2014.
Last season, Washington led the team with 735 receiving yards, while Johnson led with 49 receptions and nine touchdown catches. This was in a season in which Roethlisberger only played six quarters, of course, and did not even throw a touchdown.
The last time he played healthy, he completed 452 of 675 pass attempts for 5129 yards and 34 touchdown passes, sending two wide receivers—Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown—to the Pro Bowl, while McDonald also had a career year.