The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted a lot of high-round wide receivers in recent years. They have all produced, to varying degrees, but there isn’t one among them whom you would argue strongly who belongs in the top 10 in the game right now.
Part of that is simply the product of spreading the ball. Part of it is the limitations of the offense, not just in the passing game, but as a whole. Of course, part of it is on the receivers themselves. One area that they hope will improve the productivity of the receivers, though, is the boosted threat that they now have inside, with the additions of running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth.
“I think, especially with our interior with [Eric] Ebron and Pat, I think it’ll be harder to roll Cover 2 safeties and Cloud because the inside of the field will be pretty threatening, with Ebron and Pat, and then Najee”, wide receiver Chase Claypool told reporters yesterday, talking about how their interior pass-catchers will help draw coverage over the middle of the field.
“I think he brings a lot of versatility”, he said specifically of Harris. “He opens it up for the receivers because they have to respect the run game. And he’s a really dynamic receiver, as you guys saw in the home game versus Detroit with his run after the catch”.
Claypool is the youngest of the receivers, drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame last year, and coming off a productive rookie season. He recorded 62 receptions for 873 yards with nine receiving touchdowns, setting a Steelers rookie record for receptions and tying the mark for receiving touchdowns (also tying the all-purpose touchdowns record with 11).
The Steelers need that to be just the beginning for him, however, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington almost surely on their way out the door in free agency in March. He and Diontae Johnson will be the immediate future of the position, with one of them potentially being the next receiver to get a long-term contract.
That is a distant concern, however, with the present priority being to produce on the field today and to help win games. And Claypool believe with good reason that young new talent like Harris and Freiermuth will help him do his own job, forcing more one-on-one matchups or larger spaces in zone coverage.
There was never any doubt of Harris’ being the starter and feature back, but it was a mild surprise, perhaps, that Freiermuth was named a co-starter along with Ebron at tight end. If memory serves, I believe they also listed Ebron and Vance McDonald as co-starters last year, though.