The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers only kept five wide receivers on the 53-man roster, that one of them was Ray-Ray McCloud, and that they didn’t feel any need or impulse to elevate a player like Deon Cain from the practice squad speaks volumes as to the team’s believe in the readiness of rookie second-round pick Chase Claypool to contribute right away.
And he’s already gotten three touches under his belt so far during his NFL career, the last one being an eight-yard end-around that sealed the victory. It was only eight yards, after he beat a defender at the line of scrimmage on fourth and one, because he smartly slid to the ground knowing that the team could now run out the clock. He could have gone for more, easily.
His second touch was a short grab for 11 yards. While it came on third and 21, it was designed to pick up yardage from the New York Giants’ 29-yard line to make it an easier field goal attempt for Chris Boswell, which at the time gave the Steelers third first two-possession lead of the night at 19-10.
But it was the first touch that will be remembered, and not just because it was the first, but because it was a great play as well. Perhaps not an eternal highlight-reel feature, but a wonderful individual effort that highlighted the natural abilities that made him a top-50 pick in the draft—and that earned Ben Roethlisberger’s trust.t
“He’s shown a lot in camp, so far, that he can be trusted”, he said after the game about Claypool and giving him that ball to try to make a play. “He gets to the place he’s supposed to be and he makes plays. I kind of threw it up for him knowing it was a one-on-one ball and he made an unbelievable catch. I haven’t gotten to see it yet because it was on the sideline, and you have to see the play up close, but the fact that he went up on a defender and kept two feet inbounds was a big play for us”.
Making a few plays in the season opener doesn’t necessarily mean that he is going to be a big contributor. He is still behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington in the pecking order at wide receiver, and they are still working on getting the tight ends, Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald, more involved.
But Claypool seemingly gave every indication to his teammates and coaches during last night’s game that he was somebody they could count on to play when asked, and perhaps to avoid some of the pitfalls that often come with a player being in his first season in the NFL.