Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool had an impressive 2020 season, posting 11 total touchdowns (9 receiving and 2 rushing) and 873 receiving yards on 62 receptions. Claypool displayed flashes of potential that showcased why he was the Steelers’ first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft (second round). Claypool offers the Steelers a wide receiver with the combination of size, length, speed and strength who can take the top off the defense and generate yards with the ball in his hands.
Claypool’s room for further development is what will make him so exciting to watch in the coming years. If he continues to improve in the technical aspects of the wide receiver position (release, route running, ability to stack the DB), he will become that much harder to defend. He has already proven his ability as a pure athlete who has made and will continue to make plays that smaller, less athletic receivers can’t. Here’s a link to Jonathan Heitritter’s article on Claypool’s potential role in new OC Matt Canada’s 2021 offense.
This article is going to focus on Claypool’s 11 total touchdowns from 2020 to give your memory a slight jog on what Claypool provided to the offense. More of the same should be seen from him in 2021, and we’ll also be able to see if he’s taken some steps forward as a technician, which will be the most interesting thing to watch for with Claypool’s sophomore season. Now, let’s get into the 2020 film (this will be the regular season only).
TD #1: Claypool’s first career touchdown came in Week 2 vs. the Denver Broncos. Pressed at the top of the screen field side, Claypool sinks his momentum inside then quickly and smoothly shifts outside to take a speed release up the sideline. The DB (Michael Ojemudia) turns his hips and it’s a footrace, one that Claypool is able to use his size advantage to win positioning in via a hand fight. He then tracks the over-the-shoulder throw and hauls it in while drifting towards the sideline. After the catch, he tightropes the sideline and continues to the end zone home free.
While Big Ben’s deep ball wasn’t fully there in 2020, OC Matt Canada will try to find ways to make the offense less one-dimensional. Hopefully, Ben is fully rested and recovered from whatever was nagging him with either his elbow/knee in 2020. While we can’t expect Roethlisberger to return to prime form, revamping the creativity of the offense will likely take some pressure off of his shoulders.
If Ben can hit more deep shots in 2021, with a revived rushing attack, the offense should begin to trend in the right direction, and Claypool would most likely see an uptick in production. In 2020, Claypool was often on the receiving end of pass interference/holding calls due to how physically DBs had to play him deep. Let’s hope some of the missed throws and penalties from 2020 turn into receptions in 2021.
TD #2: Moving on, Claypool’s next 4 scores were in Week 5, where he dominated the Philadelphia Eagles and came up clutch at the end of the game (I’ll get into that in a little). In total, Claypool finished the game with 7 catches for 110 yards. This clip is his 1st score from the game. Claypool is field side in a tight split just off of tight end Vance McDonald. With the Steelers in a run-heavy look, Claypool is sent into motion and receives the handoff. With good blocking from Eric Ebron and Trey Edmunds (yes, you read that correctly), Claypool slices into the end zone untouched.
These types of jet/fly motion runs to wide receivers started off strong in the beginning of the year, but became ineffective as the season wore on. Defenses prepared for them and the Steelers didn’t do much to break tendency. They didn’t attach any run-action fakes and they rarely utilized the motion as a decoy, making the handoffs predictable.
We will likely see these types of manufactured touches given to Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Ray-Ray McCloud, etc., in the 2021 season, but OC Matt Canada will also likely add more spice to the wide receiver motions (in terms of breaking tendency and adding more options to the play design) in order to make them more difficult to prepare for.
TD #3: This is Claypool’s 2nd touchdown from the game against the Eagles. Lined up at the bottom of the screen, Claypool gives a quick jab, accompanied by a head fake to the outside, in order to sell an outside release before cutting back inside. The DB (Jalen Mills) bites on the initial fake and turns his hips outside, giving Claypool space and time to work with as the DB tries to recover. Unfortunately for the DB, Claypool then cuts inside about six/seven yards into his route and secures the easy catch while on the move. He then evades the deep safety and continues across the field for some nice yards after the catch and even better, a score.
Claypool exhibits his RAC ability in this clip. Even though he’s a bigger WR, he’s able to do damage after the catch utilizing his athleticism with the ball in his hands. This is a type of receiver the Steelers haven’t had since the talented, yet troubled, Martavis Bryant was traded back in 2018. Claypool provides YAC.
TD #4: Next is Claypool’s 3rd touchdown from the same game. The Steelers had an interesting design on this play. Claypool begins in the backfield, then motions over to the bunch set at the top of the screen. They now have a diamond bunch set, with Claypool being the furthest receiver back. On the other side of the field, Eric Ebron is isolated, giving the Eagles a big-bodied red zone threat to worry about. However, Claypool gets the manufactured screen, and with good blocking from Vance McDonald, James Conner, and Trey Edmunds yet again, he’s able to sneak his way into the end zone untouched. Creative play call.
TD #5: This clip is Claypool’s 4th and final touchdown from Week 5 against the Eagles. The Steelers are in an empty set and Claypool is in the slot to the left, close to the left tackle field side. With a delayed release off the line, Claypool takes his time to eye up LB Nate Gerry before giving him a jab to the inside then searing up the seam.
With the Eagles in a split safety look (playing what looks to be quarter, quarter, half, a.k.a. Cover 6, based on how the field side corner plays his assignment) and the Steelers running two corner routes to both sidelines, this keeps the back end occupied for Claypool to outrun Gerry up the middle, reaching wide open space to make the catch and walk into the end zone for a big time score with just over three minutes remaining in the game. It was reported, that Ben actually checked to the play call based on the look of the Eagle’s defense pre-snap.
TD #6: Moving on, this next touchdown is from the Week 6 divisional matchup with the Browns. Another rushing touchdown for Claypool. Lined up as a wingback just off of Vance McDonald in the tight formation, Claypool takes another jet/fly sweep across the line and lets Jaylen Samuels handle the defender in front of him, so that he can find a path into the end zone. As I just discussed for his last rushing touchdown, I do expect to see more of these types of carries given to Claypool in 2021 and beyond.
TD #7: This next TD is from another divisional matchup, this time against the Ravens in Week 8. Claypool is boundary side and runs a corner route. The Ravens have two safeties high, and cornerback Marcus Peters bites on the shallow out route in front of him (Big Ben sells the route with a subtle shoulder, pump fake), which allows Claypool to find a soft spot in the defense for the touchdown catch. Good execution on the play design from the Steelers.
TD #8: Another divisional matchup in this clip, from Week 10 vs. the Bengals, and it was another multi-score outing for Claypool. This clip encapsulates Claypool’s ability to use his large frame to come down with tough catches. Claypool is boundary side and after eluding the DB (Tony Brown) lined up in front of him, he sits down in open space and waits for Big Ben to spot him. Claypool is able to jump for the high throw, while keeping the closing safety on his back as he brings the catch into his chest as he goes to the ground.
TD #9: This is Claypool’s second score from the Week 10 game vs. the Bengals. Boundary side, Eric Ebron runs a corner route and takes the attention away from Claypool, who runs a quick slant/drag. Claypool secures the catch and falls forward for six after avoiding a couple defenders. Claypool is effective on these short, quick-hitting routes due to his short area athleticism/explosiveness, especially for a guy his size. That’s why he’s often given manufactured rushing attempts and short, manufactured passes. Mixing his athleticism with his frame and ability to box-out/wall-off defenders makes him tough to cover in the short game. If a DB overplays and shows a tendency to bite on the quick-hitting routes, Claypool will sell to the DB what they want to see in order to beat them deep with his speed.
TD #10: This next clip is Claypool’s 10th touchdown of the season (in his first 10 games), from the Steelers’ Week 11 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Claypool is out wide at the bottom of the screen. With the DB (Chris Claybrooks) playing in a half-turn technique, facing towards the middle of the field and eyeing the QB, Claypool takes advantage of the DB’s blind spot to slip past him with momentum.
The shallow out route from JuJu Smith-Schuster makes the DB hesitate, and by the time he realizes he needs to recover, Claypool already has a step on him and that’s all he needs to keep positioning while tracking the throw to the front of the end zone. Ben Roethlisberger did a great job holding the middle of the field safety by eyeing the opposite side of the field immediately after the snap, before quickly shifting his attention to Claypool in order to make the throw.
TD #11: This clip is Chase Claypool’s 11th and final touchdown from the 2020 NFL regular season. It came in the Steelers’ final game of the season. Week 17, second matchup with the Browns. Claypool is at the bottom of the screen and his defender is in off coverage, giving him a lot of cushion due to the 4th and 10 situation. Mason Rudolph heaves a 50/50 ball to the end zone that Claypool is able to fight for and come down with. Despite having the defender (Terrance Mitchell) all over his chest, Claypool is able to adjust to the throw by hopping and getting his hands in position in time to trap the catch before being dragged down. A great catch, and another example of Claypool’s size giving him an advantage in contested situations.
Looking back through Chase Claypool’s 2020 regular season film was a treat. While the Steelers offense as a whole finished on a steep decline, the hype around new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offensive tweaks, plus some of the new faces added to the locker room, has me very excited for the outlook of the 2021 offensive nucleus.
Chase Claypool will be a big part of that nucleus. Pittsburgh will again use him as a field stretcher, giving him the chance to make plays in contested situations, having the frame and ball skills necessary to come down with combative grabs. The Steelers will also give him the chance to produce yards on manufactured touches in creative ways. That, and his progress as a technician are the two areas of Claypool’s game to really analyze and dissect as the season progresses (they are the two areas I’m most excited to see).
At just 22 years old (he turns 23 on July 7), Claypool has plenty of time to learn, and refine/polish his abilities as a wide receiver. Having tied the Steelers’ record for touchdowns in a rookie season (11), and setting the Steelers’ record for most receptions in a rookie season (62), 2020 is only a small glimpse of what could be in store for the career trajectory of the talented Claypool.