The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool will have more special teams tackles than receptions in 2020.
Explanation: This topic is based directly upon Claypool’s college history, because during his freshman season, he did record more special teams tackles than catches, 7-to-5. With the Steelers, he immediately checks in no better than fourth on the wide receiver depth chart, at a time when the offense may be using running backs and tight ends in the offense as much as ever before.
First of all, Claypool isn’t even going to have much of an offseason to get himself acclimated to the offense. He talked about his belief that he will be able to pick up the offense relatively easily, but I’m sure a lot of rookies say that before they get the playbook.
As a practical matter, there will be few plays during which Claypool is ever on the field as anything better than the fourth or fifth option. Sure, they might design a couple of plays for him in the red zone, but they brought in Eric Ebron to be their big body in tight spaces. He has the NFL resume in that area, not a rookie.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson are all essentially established players now, and will be on the field for most of the time. Claypool, meanwhile, actively embraces special teams and understands that’s going to be a big part of his role, at least as a rookie.
The Steelers traded for Ryan Switzer in August of 2018 to be their return man, and he finished the year with 36 receptions. If Ben Roethlisberger likes to throw you the ball, you’re going to get on the field, and you’re going to get the ball, plain and simple.
There will be anywhere between 900-1200 offensive plays. 500-700 of them will be passing plays. There are plenty of targets to go around. Even Washington had 16 catches as a rookie. Deon Cain had five catches in six games over 70 snaps last year. Claypool would have to put up at least double-digit tackles to finish the year with more than his reception total.