When it comes to most teams, a guy that you draft in the second round, especially earlier than toward the end of the round, you expect him to play, pretty early. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not a team that likes to rely upon their rookies contributing early if they can avoid it, in spite of the fact that they are one of the principle organizations that lean primarily on the draft to build their roster.
In this particular instance, they have JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson sitting in front of rookie 49th-overall pick Chase Claypool. But the fact that the only other receiver they kept on the roster behind him was Ray-Ray McCloud, a return specialist who was only signed in the middle of training camp, speaks to how high they are on the Notre Dame product.
And that means we could be seeing him on the field sooner rather than later. Earlier today, for example, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner acknowledged the strong training camp he had. “I think he’s put himself into that talk of being able to be useful early in the season and a lot earlier than you probably would expect based on no offseason for a rookie”, he said, via a transcript provided by the team’s media department.
Smith-Schuster is a Pro Bowler, Johnson is a potential budding star, and Washington is a maturing young player entering his third season who came up last year and led the team in receiving yards, emerging as a deep threat in spite of arguably the worst deep-passing quarterback tandem in the NFL.
Claypool can also contribute in the deep passing game, among other areas, and the opportunity for him to do so will be due to the work that he has put in, not just on the practice field, but in keeping himself in condition throughout the offseason, as well as what he showed in college.
“Chase is unique physically for the position. I think to his credit, he did the necessary things in the offseason regardless of what”, Fichtner said. “But he didn’t get the chance to do it with us. We didn’t get the chance to work him in the weight room and work him on the grass and do all those type of things, but he learned to be a professional prior to getting here. He came in awesome shape. His body hasn’t failed, and his mind hasn’t failed him because of conditioning. He’s got a lot of reps”.
Unless Johnson doesn’t perk up by the end of the week and somehow misses the season opener, it will still be difficult to see the obvious path toward playing time for Claypool on Monday night when the New York Giants play host, also taking into consideration the signing of Eric Ebron at tight end.
But regardless of how much he plays—and it could be more than many think, as Fichtner indicates—one thing the team has made pretty clear is that they seem to be comfortable with where he is and would trust him to be on the field.