The topic of the slot receiver coming into 2022 has been a heavily-debated one for much of the offseason. Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora have mentioned numerous times on The Terrible Podcast that Chase Claypool should likely be moved from the outside Z receiver position into the slot to capitalize on his size and athletic prowess against slot corners and linebackers/safeties, being a better fit there in the big slot role that JuJu Smith-Schuster played the last couple years, rather than on the outside, where he tends to struggle stacking outside corners vertically.
When training camp practice kicked off at Saint Vincent College this week, Steelers Depot’s very own Kozora mentioned that Claypool was indeed lining up more in the slot with the first team offense. Claypool was asked if he is seeing more action in the slot to start training camp that in years past by local media as he reported for Friday’s practice session, and mentioned that the slot may not be his home in the offense for the 2022 season.
“Ya, I think it has more so allowed me to get a feel for each position on the field just in-case someone isn’t available or to just to give that advice to other people who are playing that position. So, allowing me to play every position allows me to help other people,” Claypool said on Friday via video by Pittsburgh Tribune’s Chris Adamski on his Twitter page.
It’s commonplace to have WRs become more accustomed to playing in multiple spots in the offense to give them a feel of each spot and evaluate where their strengths and weakness are before determining where their best fit is. Last season, Diontae Johnson manned the X position while Claypool played the Z and JuJu played as the team’s big slot receiver. With JuJu gone and Johnson figuratively taking the Z spot again when he starts participating with the team, the opportunity has arisen to cross-train Claypool at both the Z and in the slot.
Based on Claypool’s comments, it sounds as if he isn’t sold that he will be primarily a slot receiver in 2022 given the fact he has played primarily on the outside his first two seasons in the league. Still, while Anthony Miller would be a logical fit in the slot and Claypool at Z in three receiver sets, rookie WR George Pickens has been getting plenty of run with the first team thus far in training camp, rotating into at Diontae’s spot with Cody White.
When Diontae returns to practice, we should expect to see him and Claypool as the likely two starting receivers in Pittsburgh’s two-TE offense, but it would make plenty of sense to have Claypool kick inside and have Pickens play the Z, should Pickens prove that he is far enough along in his development to handle that role.
While Claypool paints his exposure in the slot thus far in training camp as more of a precaution for potential injuries or to get experience to help others that may play there, the big slot role would be one that could fit his skill set well given the other options Pittsburgh has in the WR core.