Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool has garnered rave reviews, particularly in the second half of training camp, to the point where even head coach Mike Tomlin coach say nothing that he has been showing that he belongs, and he is typically reserved in his remarks about rookies.
All the attention prompted Pro Football Focus to take a look at the prospects of Claypool contributing right away as a rookie, and where he might be best suited. In Ben Linsey’s estimation, he may ultimately prove to be most effective at this level, at least at the start of his career, working inside.
“Clearly, he’s fast, but that speed didn’t always show itself on the field, particularly when teams were able to get up on him in press coverage”, he writes. “His release package and route running are still a work in progress. If asked to win outside early in the NFL as a rookie, Claypool will need to rely on his size and physicality to win at the catch point because he doesn’t project as an elite separator despite 4.4 speed”.
“That’s why his skills may still be best utilized in the middle of the field rather than outside”, he continued. “If Claypool is lined up in the slot or even occasionally in-line at tight end, there will be less press coverage to worry about and more space for him to build up speed and stress defenses down the seams, all while seeing more mismatches in coverage”.
There is a logic here, and it’s not a novel idea to suggest that his skillset would translate to playing inside. The biggest obstacle here is the simple fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster is actually their primary slot receiver, playing about two thirds of his snaps from the slot just last season, the highest percentage of his career.
Of course, he is capable of playing outside and winning, as well, so in situations in which both he and Claypool are on the field, he could play outside. The rookie may only see a couple hundred snaps in 2020, so it wouldn’t be a major investment.
Linsey did suggest that one area of the field he feels the Steelers should utilize Claypool’s services is in the red zone, where he has been one of the more productive college wide receivers of the past two years. Not because of his ability to be a fade route threat, but rather, because of the threat of the fade route itself.
“Much in the same way that cornerbacks have to value a receiver’s speed which opens up something like a hitch route, you can see that defenders valued Claypool’s ability to win outside on fade routes/box outs once Notre Dame got close to the goal line”, Linsey added. “Claypool takes advantage of that on the slant, getting the cornerback to bite on that quick outside step. His eight receiving touchdowns in the red zone in 2019 was a top-five mark among wide receivers in the draft class”.
It’s tantalizing to think of the 6’4”, 234-pound Chase Claypool as the icing on the cake in the Steelers’ wide receiver room. There’s a good chance, as history has shown in recent years, that he plays more than expected, but either way, what we still know is that his future is very much ahead of him, and it’s bright.