2021 Training Camp Battles: Starting Wide Receiver Roles

Pittsburgh Steelers receivers

With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.

Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.

Position: Wide Receiver

Up for Grabs: Starting Jobs (Pecking Order)

In the Mix: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool

Frankly, barring injury, sitting here right now, I have no idea what the snap counts of these three players named will look like by the end of the season. Obviously, all of them are going to play a lot, but at least one or two of them is going to see more snaps than the rest, simply because they don’t always have all three on the field.

The 11 is the Steelers’ base package, and even the number three guy should be able to healthily command 700-plus snaps, I would expect. But someone is also going to play 1000-plus snaps, potentially.

Are we to assume that, entering training camp, JuJu Smith-Schuster is being viewed as their every-down receiver, a player who is never going to come off the field except for a breather here and there? Might that role actually go, instead, to Diontae Johnson, who receives the highest volume of targets? Or it could be Chase Claypool, a budding star entering his second season.

A strong case, I think, could be made for any of the three to be the highest-volume receiver in terms of snap count by the time we open the season, though, truthfully, I’m not sure how much of a factor the training camp process will be in analyzing that.

The Steelers got Smith-Schuster to re-sign on a one-year, $8 million deal. He’s coming off a season in which he logged over 900 snaps. But both Johnson and Claypool will be of higher stature in 2021 than they have been previously. So, quite simply, how do you juggle all of it?

Based on history, Smith-Schuster is the only one of the group whom we know is capable of doing everything the Steelers might ask of a wide receiver, including being a big-play threat, a possession receiver, and a willing blocker. Claypool, though, could also be that guy.

And Johnson is simply the guy who gets open and gets the targets. The guy who beats his man in coverage is the guy who gets the love, and if he’s going to keep doing that, he’s going to be the one they can’t take off the field—except in running situations, which may be more prominent this year, leaving us back where we started.

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