While there are many things over which the Pittsburgh Steelers should have anxiety, including key players regressing and a great deal of uncertainty, there is still plenty to be optimistic about going forward. One of the biggest bright spots is the further development of second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool, who could soon establish himself as one of the top wide receivers in the game.
Already during his rookie season, while ceding playing time to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, he recorded 62 receptions for 873 yards, with nine receiving touchdowns and 11 total touchdowns from scrimmage, three of which tied or surpassed franchise rookie records. He also had success in the postseason game with two more receiving touchdowns.
He is an ideal combination of talent and natural physical attributes, so it’s predictable that he is being highlighted as a candidate player to break out this year. Pro Football Focus recently took that route, penning an article about his potential to be a top-10 wide receiver from a fantasy perspective this year.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of information provided in the article was a comparison of rookie wide receiver numbers from last season. While Claypool finished second only to Justin Jefferson in yards per route run, he was only 10th in routes run per game, in comparison to the other wide receivers drafted in the first and second rounds.
The piece also notes that his efficiency did decline over the course of the season, but of course he was on an unsustainable pace earlier on. It helps when you hit on an 84-yard touchdown in your second game and then soon after have a three-touchdown performance. That’s a tough act to follow.
But it’s also true that Claypool could have done better. There were a handful of opportunities, particularly down the field, on which he was not fully able to take advantage; yet at the same time, he also had a high percentage of his deep targets generate pass interference calls, leading the league in calls drawn.
What is clear is that Claypool has all the tools to succeed, which we saw last year. He has too many natural and trained gifts not to be a strong candidate. Many will argue that he has already had his breakout season, and it’s inevitable that he will see more playing time this year anyway.
More likely, it will be exterior factors that hold him back, if anything—a quarterback who can’t get him the ball, or an offense that has too many weapons to really allow him to capitalize on his abilities. But at least the latter tends to sort itself out just by being the guy who’s making the plays, and thus the guy who gets the ball.