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 will be removed from special teams this year no matter how much he might want to play.
Explanation: After he was drafted, both Claypool and his college coach talked about how he fought to stay on special teams even after he became a starter for Notre Dame. But it’s a lot harder to convince NFL coaches and the men who sign your checks to keep you on special teams once you crack the starting lineup.
Want to guess how many special teams snaps JuJu Smith-Schuster has played since becoming a full-time starter in 2018? The answer is seven, and I’m imagining all or nearly all of them consist of gadget plays, and perhaps a couple of onside kicks while on the ‘hands’ team. He played 51 snaps as the Steelers’ kick returner as a rookie, a role in which he was successful, but that didn’t stop them from pulling him.
Claypool was coming in last season as the number four receiver right off the bat. He quickly showed himself to be more than that, but he will have a much bigger role as an every-down player this year, and that means they’re not going to want him running down return men exposing himself to unnecessary risk of injury.
The difference between Smith-Schuster and Claypool in terms of special teams is that Smith-Schuster was a return man, and Claypool is a coverage and blocking player. His primary role last season was on the kick return unit as a blocker, and that’s something that is relatively safe for a player of his size to execute without much risk of injury.
And lest we forget, the Steelers did allow Antonio Brown to continue to play on special teams as their punt returner for years after establishing himself as a star. Why? Because he wanted to. If Claypool genuinely wants to play on special teams, there may be some restrictions on what they allow him to do, but they won’t keep him off the field entirely, because he is an asset. They already scaled back his work from about 15 snaps to about 7-10 after he started playing more last year.