Having recently traded third year receiver Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ receiver room is now thinner. The impact this will have on the offense and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett remains to be seen. When asked about how the offense will change without Claypool, Pickett stressed a next man up mentality on a Wednesday press conference on Steelers.com.
“I mean I think it means some guys gotta step up, right,” Pickett said. “It’s next man up. Obviously, Chase is a great, really talented player. We’ll miss him and we had a great time together. But we need guys to step up to fill that void, and I’m really confident in all the guys doing it as a collective.”
Claypool played the slot position, Steven Sims is likely the next man up in the slot role. Sims’ path to making the 53-man roster was not guaranteed, as the team signed Gunner Olszewski to be the returner. However, after a few impressive performances in the preseason, he wound up making the team due to injuries to Anthony Miller and Calvin Austin III, and now has a chance to showcase his talents in a starting role. Another name to watch is Miles Boykin, who is presumably the next man up in the outside role behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens.
Claypool ranked second in the team for targets with 50 behind Johnson’s 76. Claypool had around 20% of the team’s 242 targets on the season, a void that will now be filled by others on the team. One name that comes to mind is Pickens, a rookie who has ample chemistry with Pickett.
“We just have to adjust that with how we do certain things,” Pickett said when asked how Claypool’s departure will impact Pickens’ targets. “I think the ball gets spread around. I think those guys, like I said, will step up as a receiver room to fill that void. So I’m excited to see guys get opportunities and see what they do with them.”
With 44 targets, Pickens ranks fourth on the team, and will presumably receive more targets given Pickett’s compatibility with him. This duo’s rapport on the field dates back to rookie minicamp in May, and it was all but surprising to see Pickett target him more often. Pickens’ targets steadily increased throughout the season, especially when Pickett took over the starting role in Week 5. However, the team’s recent outing against the Philadelphia Eagles saw him only get three targets. With Claypool gone, Pickett will likely inch closer to Johnson as the team’s most targeted player.
Another player that will see a sharp increase in his targets is tight end Pat Freiermuth. In fact, head coach Mike Tomlin cited the team’s comfort with his play in the interior as an impetus for trading away Claypool. Along with Sims, Freiermuth will now receive the majority of Pickett’s interior targets. Claypool’s fit in the slot was always an awkward fit, as there is seldom evidence of bigger slots working out. For Pickett, this will be a chance for him to develop chemistry with the team’s last two second round picks in Freiermuth and Pickens, both of whom will play most of their rookie contracts out with him. Ideally, this trio will be wearing black and gold for years to come.