The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Chase Claypool is the best candidate to see more time in the slot this year to accommodate JuJu Smith-Schuster playing outside more.
Explanation: While it seems inevitable that the slot will remain Smith-Schuster’s primary role, there is a more than fair chance that he will also get more opportunities outside in a new offense and with a knee that is presumably now closer to 100 percent. Claypool and Diontae Johnson would have to play inside more, though to accommodate that.
The slot was the role that a lot of people were talking about for Claypool immediately following the draft. Pre-draft, some were even questioning whether or not it would make sense for him to actually move to tight end.
Obviously, he’s shown that he doesn’t need to play tight end to excel in the NFL. He’s a genuine NFL wide receiver. But he can play in the slot in something of a tight end role with effectiveness, and in a way that would be advantageous to the offense in providing mismatches. That is, after, one of the reasons why Smith-Schuster himself ended up in the slot.
While I’m not going to springboard off of Smith-Schuster’s suggestion that Ray-Ray McCloud is the second-best slot receiver on the team behind himself, a genuine case can be made that Diontae Johnson would be better-served there than Claypool.
Having Claypool outside in your primary three-receiver package maximizes your spatial resources, because he is the most dangerous, and fastest, deep threat on the team, and opponents have already shown that they recognize they have to respect his skill set.
Johnson’s nuanced route-running can really take advantage of that additional space that would open up over the middle of the field—so much so that Smith-Schuster will be begging to get back inside so he can receive all the targets instead. But really, at the end of the day, it’s a good problem for the Steelers to have, and that is if they are even really considering playing Smith-Schuster outside more.