It’s not a bad problem to have when your top rookie has already made the two best plays of your season. His first career touch was perhaps the most difficult catch anybody has made in the NFL so far this season. In his second game, he went the distance for an 84-yard touchdown. He’s not going to be sneaking up on anybody by this point, and his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates were already thinking that in training camp—before anybody saw them.
That’s in part just because they couldn’t help but talk about what he was doing on the practice field. While there were no preseason games to watch, we got the interviews and the press reports, and teams were monitoring any intel they could get. Anybody playing the Steelers this year was probably paying attention and heard the rave reviews about Chase Claypool.
He’s off to a good start already, with over 100 yards on five catches, two explosive plays, a game-clinching eight-yard end-around, and a good measure of veteran savvy—plus some quality play on special teams to boot.
“Him going to Notre Dame, I’ve seen him play a couple of times, and he’s ahead of his time”, JuJu Smith-Schuster told reporters yesterday about the rookie. “I think it’s really good. What really caught my eye was in training camp where you see him running under those fade balls, running to those deep balls, with pads, going against the ones, pretty much putting it on tape against our starting defense. I guess that was the time for me when I knew right away that this kid could play”.
When you have the longest play in the NFL, of course, it’s hard to go unnoticed. You can get the Houston Texans and their cornerbacks, such as Bradley Roby, are keenly aware not only of the size but also the speed that Claypool possesses, not to mention his ability to use his frame to fight for the ball in the air.
And the crazy thing is that the Steelers are not even depending on him, at least not this year, not yet. They have Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington as their top wide receivers. They’re still working on getting their tight ends and running backs worked into the passing game.
Whatever the Notre Dame product delivers this year is kind of a bonus, so to speak, but it could be the bonus that puts them over the top. There will be situational matchups that he is going to win that nobody else on the team would be able to just because of his natural gifts. That, you don’t have to teach. You just go out there and do it.