The Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that makes it very clear that they like to build through the draft. That’s why it took over 50 years—easily the longest streak in the NFL for them to have gone through a draft without using a selection on a first-round pick in 2020, having traded that selection in September for first-team All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
In fact, thanks to the Devin Bush trade, they were actually left with just one selection in the top 100, that being the 49th-overall pick, which manifested itself as Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool. The 6’4’, 233-pound Canadian casts a daunting shadow, but he does enter a wide receiver room full of pedigree and promise.
In the three years prior to Claypool’s selection, the Steelers used two second-round picks and one in the third, all between selections 60 through 66, in drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson into the wide receiver room. Smith-Schuster has already been to a Pro Bowl. Both of the newer members of the room showed intriguing potential last year in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence.
That doesn’t mean Mike Tomlin is about to script out Chase Claypool’s rookie season for him. They drafted the big, fast wide receiver because they believed that he could bring a dimension to the offense that they, at the time, did not have in the room.
“I’m not going to thoughtfully place him behind anybody”, he told one member of Steelers Nation Unite yesterday when he was asked how much playing opportunity the rookie might have coming into a group with three more experienced and talented players.
“He might come in and carve out a significant role for himself. And I think that’s just a mentality that I try to convey all the time with everyone”, he went on. “I want Chase to know that there are no glass ceilings in terms of what he can do and be here for us. Not only this year, but over the course of his career. He’ll be given an opportunity to let his talent”.
Smith-Schuster wasn’t supposed to have the role he had as a rookie. He earned it, albeit through some misfortune of others. The same can be said of Johnson. While he wasn’t overly successful his rookie year, Washington also got a lot of playing time in 2018.
“Competition makes us all better and whole and really puts us in position to be a good unit and thus a good team”, Tomlin said about the wide receiver group stocked with high draft picks. “He’s got talent, no question. I like his play demeanor. He’s a sharp young man. I see no reason why he can’t put himself in the mix. And quite frankly, we expect him to”.
Coming from a limited football background, with a gradually-ascending college career, and paired with what will be at best a truncated offseason, Claypool has the deck stacked against him, but he’ll have his opportunity, at some point, to show whether or not he can make a difference in 2020 for this team.