With a breakout rookie season and one of the most physically gifted skillsets, no defense will be sleeping on Chase Claypool in 2021. Like the end of last season, he knows he might not see as many targets if defenses continue to drift coverage his side. But as long as that gives other guys a chance to make a play, Claypool isn’t complaining.
He spoke with reporters on Thursday about what he expects this season.
“I think they started [taking me away] towards the second half of the year,” Claypool said via a Zoom call. “But I think it’s good because you know, guys like Diontae, JuJu, James, and Ray-Ray can really go off and now that we have Najee in the mix, it’ll be fine. So if they put two or cloud me, then I’m fine with that. As long as the other guys are eating.”
Claypool’s numbers waned down the stretch of his rookie season. Part of that can be attributed to a slight reduction in playing time, though that narrative is overstated, but it’s fair to say he was drawing more attention than he was at the start of the year. From Weeks 13-16, a span of four games, he was targeted 24 times, catching 12 passes for 161 yards and failing to find the end zone. Compare that to Weeks 9-12 where on 40 targets, he hauled in 22 receptions for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
In the Steelers’ offense, it’ll be difficult for a guy like Claypool to put up top-10 numbers. With the weapons the team has and its mission of running the ball more often and more effectively, his production, barring any sort of long-term injury elsewhere, will probably be capped.
But it’s a group that has the potential to be one of the best top to bottom in the league. Of the top four, the oldest receiver in that room is James Washington, who turned 25 in early April. And largely, as Claypool’s comments indicate, it’s an unselfish room. There are big personalities in that room but not necessarily big egos.
Still, Claypool should have a successful sophomore season even if it doesn’t mean a giant upswing in his numbers. If Pittsburgh can improve its vertical passing game, Claypool could see his production spike. Last season, he failed to catch many deep passes from Ben Roethlisberger but also racked up tons of hidden yardage. He was right at the top of the league in pass interference yards gained, a number that won’t appear in the box score but is sure a quick way to move the football downfield.