It hasn’t been since 2011 that a rookie class has ever experienced anything in the ballpark of what this year’s rookies are going through. Although the circumstances were very different, that year due to a lockout and this due to a pandemic, the long and short of it is that in both cases, their growth and development and instruction were stunted.
It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact will be on the 2020 class. Of course, we’re still in May, long before any games are supposed to be played, but teams haven’t been shy about their expectations for their rookie class. The Cincinnati Bengals are already all in on Joe Burrow, for example, after releasing Andy Dalton.
Every rookie’s experience is different from that of a veteran’s though, because they don’t even have a team at the start of the process. Rookie are visiting with teams and training for the draft. At worst, veterans are just having their agents phoning up teams and seeing if they’re interested.
One of last year’s rookies, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson, was asked to talk about his rookie experiences and what might be in store for Chase Claypool, this year’s top draft pick for the team at the wide receiver position.
“The biggest part was being able to work out and stuff”, he said of the pre-draft process, according to Teresa Varley. “Doing all of that traveling, and visiting teams, when you get to the team, I was out of shape because I didn’t get to work out like I wanted to”.
“Being in shape is what they harped to me about, being ready to run. I had to get my legs up under me”, he added. “Learning the playbook was tough too. I had my teammates there to help me”.
Claypool won’t have that same experience. While he probably had less to do in the pre-draft process, now that he is on a team, there are a lot of things that are limited to him. He can’t even meet with coaches yet. Johnson admitted that he hasn’t even spoken to Claypool yet personally.
“The challenge he is going to face is learning the offense through an iPad”, he said. “Just trying to pick up everything without being able to learn in person, walk through the routes and try to get to know everybody, get a feel for the room, the quarterbacks is going to be different for him. I am sure he is going to come in prepared. I am sure he is ready right now”.
Claypool didn’t really break out as a college player until his final season. It probably wouldn’t be accurate to say that he is coming into the NFL with a lot of polish, even though he seems to have plenty of confidence in his ability to learn quickly and to contribute.
Aside from Johnson, the Steelers also return JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington as the top wide receivers from last season. Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain are two other wide receivers who have contributed to the offense. If Claypool is slow to develop, they won’t play him.