The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Chase Claypool where they did last year because they saw in him the ability to do great things at the wide receiver position. While he is not without his flaws, he has already made good on his potential. He has caught 82 passes for 1214 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first 20 games, and is coming off of a career-best 130-yard game from Sunday.
The second-year pro made an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show earlier today, and at one point was asked about where he feels he’s most improved from his rookie season. “Just seeing coverages, even if they’re disguised, knowing how they’ll cover you, just little nuances of matchups”, he told his host. “I think that’s what’s improved the most in my game”.
I think we can say that we have seen some growth in this area so far this year. While he still has to get better in creating separation, he has been a little better in getting off the line when pressed, and in finding the open zones when bracketed.
“If you know what to expect, then it takes all the stress out of the game and you can just go play freely”, Claypool said about how his tape study has translated onto the field, and in his head. “Preparation is a big part of just going out there and playing free”.
The man they reluctantly still occasionally call Mapletron is in for a bigger role for the remainder of the season, of course, following the season-ending injury to fellow wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who for the past couple of seasons has had a larger impact than stat sheet.
Smith-Schuster in particular was a regular target on third-down plays, often even being thrown to behind the sticks, and he would have to pick up yards after the catch, fighting through contact, to move the chains. His reliability will not be easily replaced.
Claypool, however, is not unfamiliar with working on the money downs. He caught 23 passes on third or fourth down during his rookie season, producing 17 first down in addition to three touchdowns, for 403 total yards. One of those touchdowns was from Mason Rudolph, not Ben Roethlisberger.
He already has seven receptions on third and fourth down in 2021, with five going for first downs and a sixth being his touchdown on Sunday, for 93 yards. But that is on 16 targets, with most of the incompletions being deep targets, or defensed or intercepted.