Getting production out of rookie wide receivers is not uncommon for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had Diontae Johnson lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns just last year. JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017 caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven scores. There was Martavis Bryant, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace, and to a lesser extent, Emmanuel Sanders, who came in behind Wallace, Hines Ward, and Antwaan Randle El.
Now there’s Chase Claypool, the team’s highest-drafted wide receiver since Holmes, and he is showing early promise of productivity. He only has six receptions so far through three games on nine targets, but they’ve gone for 151 yards, and he has a current NFL-long 84-yard touchdown reception to his name.
Perhaps most interesting, at least to me, is that the Steelers have entrusted him with opportunities to close out games. In the opener, it was a 4th-and-1 end-around. Against the Texans, they gave him a screen toss on 3rd and 9, and he converted it into a 24-yard gain.
Even though he caught just that one pass in the Steelers’ last game, he played 61 snaps, more than any other wide receiver, thanks to Johnson leaving the game with a concussion. He is the type of player who will show things away from the ball, including blocking, and on special teams as well.
“He did very well. It’s nothing that was too crazy”, Smith-Schuster told reporters about Claypool’s play so far through three games. “Honestly what he’s doing is nothing that we haven’t seen before, expect that you guys are seeing him play more. He’s always been able to do that. I’m happy for him. Good for him”.
Remember, Claypool was definitely one of the stories of training camp, if not the single biggest story. We heard consistently and frequently from both players and coaches, as well as reporters, about the plays that he was making, especially as training camp progressed. The defensive backs who had to cover him let it be known that he would be a problem for defenses. Mike Tomlin had to acknowledge that he’d shown he belongs even before stepping into a game.
The fact of the matter is that the Steelers already have a four-receiver offense with Claypool in the mix. However the snap counts and targets shake out, that is the reality. Smith-Schuster, Johnson, James Washington, and Claypool are all significant contributors. All of them have over 100 yards and a touchdown already as well.