More often than not, the wide receivers that the Pittsburgh Steelers draft in the early to middle rounds have a significant impact, or at least a significant snap count, during their rookie seasons. Guys like Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates were the exceptions to players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant, Santonio Holmes, and most recently, Diontae Johnson. Even James Washington played extensively during the 2018 season.
Yet there isn’t a lot of talk or pressure surrounding Chase Claypool, in spite of the fact that he is the team’s highest selection for the position since Holmes in 2006. That is because he is coming in behind Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Washington, so when he hits the ground, it may be running, but it will be behind at least three other guys who are all smaller than him.
Still, he might not log 4-500 snaps as a rookie, but he is going to get on the field. Ben Roethlisberger was on the phone with him minutes after the Steelers and all of their personnel spoke to him about the practicalities of being drafted right after they selected him.
And the coaches have spoken about him as somebody who adds something to the offense that they were missing. A big vertical threat. A presence in the red zone. And that is where he expects to contribute as a rookie as well.
“The red-zone opportunity is something that I’m pretty excited to add to the team”, he said on Living Room Sports recently with Bob Pompeani. “I think I can be a red-zone threat, and I think it’s something that the team could’ve done better last year, so I’m looking forward to making that impact, and obviously making an impact on all four special teams units”.
He knows, wisely, to add his special teams duties, because he’s going to play there. Not that he minds. In fact, after he became a full-time starter in college, his coaches wanted to take him off the special teams units, and he told them to leave him on, saying that it wouldn’t feel right.
Of course, in the NFL, wide receivers can play on special teams, but once they start having an impact, becoming starters, showing signs of greatness, coaches, and owners, protect their assets. Smith-Schuster was a kick returner for the entirety of his rookie season. It’s not a coincidence that he hasn’t done it since.
In today’s NFL, there absolutely is room for more than three wide receivers to get playing time and even to make an impact. Who would have thought, for example, that Cobi Hamilton would have over 200 yards and a couple touchdowns in 2016, or that Darrius Heyward-Bey would gain over 300 yards with a couple scores the year before that?
And I think we can safely say that Claypool is more talented than those players, and which a skill set that can fill a particular niche in the end zone. So he can make his presence felt this year, for sure, in small windows. And on special teams.