The 2021 NFL Draft is drawing near, which is as fitting a time as any to take a look back at the rookie season of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2020 NFL Draft. While draft analysis begins as soon as the pick is in, we now have a year’s worth of data on these players to gain more compelling insight.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of J.C. Hassenauer and Henry Mondeaux, because while the 2020 season was their first to accrue, they were not true rookies, but rather first-year players.
The Steelers went into the 2020 NFL Draft with just six selections, including no first-round pick after dealing it to the Dolphins in 2019 for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They received a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Le’Veon Bell. Their natural third-round pick was traded away the year before to move up for Devin Bush.
They swapped fifth and sixth-round picks with Miami for fourth and seventh-round picks, while they sent their previous fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for Nick Vannett. Their other fifth-round pick, which they dealt to Miami, came from the Jaguars in exchange for Joshua Dobbs.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors, as well.
Player: Chase Claypool
Position: Wide Receiver
Draft Status: Second Round (49th overall)
Starts: 16 (6 starts)
No doubt you noticed that Claypool is listed as having started only six games, which seems low given that he played nearly 700 snaps on the season. It really doesn’t mean much. He played at least 40 snaps in 11 games during the year, and at least 50 in six of them—not even all of them being the six that he started.
But he came in ready to contribute right away. He only caught two passes on two targets in his first game, but it included an impressive 28-yard downfield sideline grab. He also sealed the game with an eight-yard end-around run on 4th and 1 to end the game. A week later, Ben Roethlisberger hit him for an 81-yard touchdown strike, and two weeks after that, he had a massive four-touchdown game, including going 7-for-11 receiving for 110 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for another.
Things would somewhat cool off from there, or rather stabilize. He wouldn’t score every week, but he did finish the season with nine receiving touchdowns, 11 overall, both of which are club rookie records. His 62 receptions also set a rookie record for the Steelers, accumulating 873 receiving yards.
Claypool would close out the season with a strong postseason performance as well, even if in too-little, too-late fashion, with another two touchdowns. Needless to say, he is primed to be a breakout star for the offense in 2021, and I doubt Mike Tomlin will be doing much snap management for him this year.