With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster now out indefinitely, the offense has the task of figuring out how to replace his snaps at the wide receiver position, particularly in the slot. While his absence will obviously mean a bigger role for fourth-year James Washington, the biggest question isn’t so much who plays more, but who plays in the slot.
Chase Claypool, last year’s second-round draft pick, is one option, and he made a couple of big catches there on Sunday. He has a few dozen snaps logged in the slot this season out of about 200 on offense. According to teammate Diontae Johnson, he—and everybody else in the room—is capable of playing there, and anywhere else.
“Chase can play anywhere on the field. Anybody in the receiver room can play anywhere on the field”, he told reporters yesterday. “He’s been contributing each week, making those big plays down the field. He showed that yesterday, making tough catches as well, so I’ve got to give credit to him. Those tough catches he’s been making, not everybody can do that, go across the middle and get smacked like that, how he comes down with the ball. He takes pride in that, and I’m happy for him”.
It was talked about even before he was drafted that Claypool could serve well as a big slot, something that the Steelers had in Smith-Schuster. Claypool, of course, is even bigger, perhaps stronger, and more explosive as well. But perhaps lacks some nuance.
We’ll see if he gets the opportunity to flex his interior muscles as the season progresses, but chances are it will be a committee approach. And, of course, he’ll be out there on the field whenever they are in two-receiver sets, which could be more prominent going forward, with two-receiver sets ticking upward with Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, and Zach Gentry.
Claypool, for his own part, caught five passes for 130 yards on Sunday, including his first touchdown of the season in four games (missing one due to injury). He has 341 receiving yards on the season to date on 20 receptions, his output ticking upward each week.
Claypool currently leads the Steelers in receiving yardage, with Johnson in second at 305 yards. He is third in receptions behind rookie running back Najee Harris and Johnson. His 17.1 yards per reception is, by far, the highest total on the team.
He already has two 50-yard receptions on the season, including a 49-yarder from Sunday that came on a short pass with Von Miller in coverage, out of the slot. The other. He has three total explosive plays on deep targets, and five explosive receptions in total.