With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Chase Claypool will be the third wide receiver, in deference to George Pickens, by the end of the 2022 season.
Explanation: In an era in which the three-receiver set is as prominent as it is, the distinction between a ‘starter’ and a ‘sub-package’ number three receiver has largely grown meaningless. It used to be that the third receiver would play 20 snaps a game; now it’s 60 snaps a game. But there’s still a difference, and the Steelers now have another high-pedigreed wide receiver to give Chase Claypool competition.
When a second-year wide receiver who had a promising rookie season fails to make good on that promise, there are going to be questions. The Steelers tried to answer the Chase Claypool question with the drafting of George Pickens—at least, that’s one of the things that move was set to accomplish.
Diontae Johnson is the guy who gets open. Not to make a one-for-one comparison, but he’s the Antonio Brown of this offense: he’s going to be on the field because he’s going to be available to catch passes. So the question is, who’s the other guy on the field in two-receiver sets?
Well, that’s going to be Pickens, at least by the end of the year, because he’s simply going to outperform Claypool, whose play is simply erratic, and who has failed to live up to his billing as a deep threat. Pickens can be what we thought year-one Claypool would be in year two.
It took a lot for JuJu Smith-Schuster to start seeing more snaps than Martavis Bryant during his rookie season, and the odds of Pickens having some breakout year with this offense, with a new quarterback and all of that—we don’t even know who the quarterback is going to be—is pretty minimal.
And let’s not overdramatize Claypool’s sophomore season. While this is a mighty big caveat, he was largely the same player last year as he was in 2020, minus the scoring, and that’s a volatile metric that includes a lot of factors outside of the receiver’s control. Having a red zone threat tight end like Pat Freiermuth didn’t help, for example.
The fact is Claypool is a talented wide receiver who should have his best season in 2022. He should be hungry after not taking the step forward last year that everybody, including himself, expected. I fully anticipate that he will be a motivated individual at St. Vincent College this year—the first time he actually gets to go there, since he arrived in the NFL during the pandemic.