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: We should temper our enthusiasm about the positive impact rookies Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland have been having so far at training camp.
Explanation: Through the first few days of padded practices, the Steelers two rookie skill position draft picks, Chase Claypool at wide receiver and Anthony McFarland at running back, have been singled out for attention for the plays that they have been able to make. But until they do it in a live game, there remain more questions than answers.
While we are past the ‘football in shorts’ stage, as Mike Tomlin likes to call it, we are also not inside of stadiums, and we won’t be until the regular season begins. There will be no preseason, so all that we have is training camp practices, and practice settings with limitations on physicality naturally benefit skill position players.
That is especially so for players with innately beneficial characteristics, such as Claypool’s height and McFarland’s speed. These qualities allow such players to make the most of their opportunities against opponents who are giving less than their all, knowing that injuring their own teammates is the last thing that they want to do—even if only to avoid getting barked out by their coaches. Just ask Nick Chubb, who is in the concussion protocol after taking a hard his from Mack Wilson for the Browns.
No type of practice will ever be a proper simulation for the real thing, but it is currently the only thing, and the reality is that both Claypool and McFarland are showing up. More importantly, they are looking like the players that we were led to believe that they are based on their scouting reports and natural traits.
Claypool is big and tall. He has been looking big and tall and playing like it. McFarland is fast, but is strong for his size. We have seen his speed, and the very fact that he has been included in the backs-on-backers drill is a testament to the Steelers’ belief in him as a true running back.
We know the pedigree of these players and we know what they look like on the field. Not every tall wide receiver is going to be a Justin Hunter. Sometimes they’re a Martavis Bryant (on the field). Not every fast running back is going to be a Chris Rainey. Sometimes they’re going to be—well, not quite a Willie Parker, but perhaps a slighter Rashard Mendenhall (McFarland ran a 4.44; Mendenhall a 4.45).