With 110 yards receiving and four total touchdowns on Oct. 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles, second-round pick Chase Claypool officially arrived in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Claypool broke out in that game and held a main role in the offense the rest of the season as one of the three main receivers Pittsburgh used.
Claypool’s role was varied early on during that stretch. Pittsburgh would line him up wide, give him some snaps in the slot, even design the occasional sweep play for him. As the season progressed, the rookie’s role became more and more defined to a wide alignment, with his snaps, sweeps, and other uses dialed back as the season progressed from Week 5 to Week 17.
Versatility has been the key word for everyone involved with the offense and receivers this season, with Pittsburgh’s strong top four at the position capable of lining up in multiple spots and the Steelers focused on using that more in 2021 than they did in 2020. That includes Claypool, whose combination of 6’4″, 238 lbs. with 4.42 speed might make him the best athlete at receiver on the team’s roster.
“That’s definitely part of the progression for all of our guys and mainly Chase. With a guy like that, we obviously need to see the maturity and the growth this upcoming season. And as a coaching staff we try to find the best matchup for him and for our other guys is something that we’re tasked with. We’re cognizant of it, and we’re going to try to get that done,” Steelers’ wide receiver coach Ike Hilliard said during a minicamp media session Wednesday.
By the end of the season, the Steelers’ four receivers were consistently playing in the same spots. Claypool and Diontae Johnson held things down out wide, with James Washington getting snaps out with them when he got on the field. JuJu Smith-Schuster handled the team’s reps in the slot. The way players moved from spot to spot decreased from mid-season, when all four were getting some slot time mixed in with looks out wide.
Claypool’s rare size/speed combo — he is the only receiver since Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson to run as fast at his size — makes him an ideal candidate to be a weapon in different spots, and be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Even locked into one alignment, Claypool is a candidate for a major step forward in his second season after recording 873 yards and a team-record nine touchdowns as a rookie. The Steelers aren’t even discussing a potential slump for him as a sophomore, not after Johnson and Smith-Schuster posted career-best numbers in their second seasons.
“We’re not going to talk of it, talk about it. What we know about Chase is that he’s extremely talented. That’s why we were fortunate enough to draft him at the spot he was drafted. Chase has a unique skillset with size, speed, physicality. We’re going to count on him to be a big component of how defenses try to defend us,” Hilliard said. “So if we continue to help his growth and development, the rest is going to be taken over with his unique talent. So we’re looking forward to seeing that progression. “