The Pittsburgh Steelers let their ambitions be known when they used a second-round pick on Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool. Even while understanding that he is being dropped into a position group that already includes JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson, using the 49th-overall pick on a player means you think he is going to be a very good one himself.
The expectations for his rookie season might be relatively low given the hand that he has been dealt, both in terms of the Steelers’ situation at his position—basically, not a lot of room—and the fact that this is an unusual offseason, but by the time his rookie contract is over, they’re probably looking for him to be competing for Pro Bowl recognition.
They are only just now getting their first taste of the 6’4”, 234-pounder—a type of body they really haven’t ever seen first-hand at the wide receiver position—but so far, the initial impression has been good. James Conner summed up his thoughts during a recent Instagram Live session, answering fan-submitted questions.
“Chase is just a big-bodied, fast guy”, he said of Claypool, who is three inches taller than Smith-Schuster and 20 pounds heavier than Washington. “Real versatile, good hands. That’s just another weapon for us on offense. Chase has been learning and making a lot of progress, gonna be a big playmaker for us”.
He is a very physically gifted athlete who also tested well, including an eye-opening 4.42-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February, with 32-and-a-half-inch arms and a 40.5-inch vertical, and on top of it all, he actually enjoys playing special teams.
It will be interesting to see what his rookie season will look like, because one easily gets the sense that the Steelers are excited to get him out on the field to make use of his rare combination of traits. There aren’t many players his size who can run in the low 4.4-second range while also being adept at making contested catches, working both the outside and inside of the field.
With Smith-Schuster heading into unrestricted free agency in 2021 and Washington following a year later, the Steelers have to figure out who they’re paying at the wide receiver position and who they’re letting go. If both Johnson and Claypool impress this year, for example, it may make it that much harder to justify spending big to keep Smith-Schuster around.
But these are conversations for February and March, not August as the pads are just starting to come on in training camp. And it’s important to keep in mind that a physical talent like Claypool is just the sort of player who will have an easy time impressing in a practice setting. What he does in stadiums will be the true story, and we won’t get that until the start of the regular season.