There used to be a seemingly unwritten rule in Pittsburgh that you don’t praise the rookies, at least not too much. That was especially the case for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who would typically respond to any positive question about a newcomer by saying, ‘he’s a rookie’.
That has not been his approach at all this year when it comes to acknowledging the successes that his rookies have had this year, and that has perhaps especially been the case for his top pick, second-round wide receiver Chase Claypool—who is not even necessarily expected to play a big role this season.
But I suppose you can’t help but offer some praise when you continually see the same guy making plays throughout a consistent stretch of practices, which has been the case for the 22-year-old out of Notre Dame. And he may begin an early ascent up the depth chart.
“He’s a guy that, through this point, has appeared to be mature beyond his years”, Tomlin told Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on SiriusXM Radio on Thursday. “Obviously, things change when you step into regular-season stadiums, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he adjusts, and what the adjustment period is like”.
“But you can’t question his pedigree, you can’t question the plays that he’s been able to make on a pretty consistent and routine basis in a practice setting”, he went on. “And oftentimes that’s an indicator of what lies ahead. Hopefully, if he keeps his head down, remains humble, and keeps working”.
After the Steelers drafted Claypool, they made it pretty clear that he was at the very least one of the highest wide receivers that they had on their board, even though about 10 or so had already been selected by other teams in the first 48 picks in front of them.
While they did bring him in to provide depth and security this year, of course, his addition was with a long-term vision in mind. JuJu Smith-Schuster is in the last year of his contract. James Washington will follow after that. It’s entirely possible that neither of those players sign new deals in Pittsburgh, so by 2022, you could be looking at a starting combination of Diontae Johnson and Claypool.
He can help the team make some more long-term decisions if he can find a way to make an immediate impact, which hasn’t been all that rare. Johnson most recently went 59-680-5 last year. Smith-Schuster posted a stat line of 58-917-7 in 2017. Before him, Martavis Bryant did 26-549-8 in 10 games. And then there was Mike Wallace. Back in 2009, he had 39 catches for 756 yards and six scores.
Under the right set of circumstances, Claypool could put up numbers that fit in line with some of these recent early outputs for Steelers receivers. Talent often wins out in the end, and adversity creates opportunities along the way that are not foreseen at the outset.