The Pittsburgh Steelers have used top-50 draft selections on skill position players over the course of the last two years. While we haven’t seen 2021 first-round running back Najee Harris take the field for the team yet, and thus still have much to learn in terms of what he will offer, we have seen Chase Claypool command the wide receiver position out of the gate a year ago.
Following a rookie season in which he caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns—plus another two rushing, and two more receiving in the postseason game—it’s no surprise that expectations are high for the Notre Dame product in year two. Mike Florio for Pro Football Talk selected him as his top candidate to make a leap in 2021.
“You could argue he’s already declared himself, but the stats at the end of the day weren’t what they could’ve been, or what they could be this year, especially if this team establishes the run, and then maybe they could do a little play action”, he said of Claypool during a recent segment.
“They didn’t play him as much as they could have, his snaps. I remember at one point, I went through the game books and I went through his playing time, and I went, ‘why is this guy only on the field 30 percent of the time?”, he continued. “He should be out there all the freakin’ time. I think he’ll be out there more this year, I think they’ll have the ball arcing through the air to him more often. I think they understand what he can do. I think he makes a leap this year”.
Head coach Mike Tomlin actively managed Claypool’s snap count during the second half of the season with an eye toward keeping him fresh for a postseason run. After consistently playing around 70-75 percent of the snaps for a six-game stretch, he would stay under that for six weeks before playing nearly 80 percent in the penultimate game. Injuries partially limited his usage in the season finale, yet he had one of his biggest games anyway.
The 49th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft set a new Steelers rookie record with 62 receptions. He also tied team rookie records for receiving touchdowns (9) and total touchdowns (11). Much of that production did come in the first half of the season, though. There is reason to believe he can be more consistent from week to week.
When it comes to his ability to attack the deep ball, though, while he missed a few opportunities, that hinges largely on Ben Roethlisberger being able to deliver him catchable balls, which was a problem for all of the Steelers’ receivers this year. Still, it’s not hard to predict that he could have a 1,000-yard season with double-digit touchdowns in this offense as long as the offensive line holds together.