After a lot of waiting, the Steelers finally made their first draft pick, adding a big target for the Steelers to utilize in a variety of ways
With the 49th pick in the NFL draft, the Steelers select Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame.
The moment Commissioner Goodell announced this, the Steelers community exploded in a rush of excitement and anger. Fans on both sides were quick to praise or pan the Steelers’ decision of adding Claypool. Regardless of personal feelings about him, it is important to look to the future with what Claypool will do for the Steelers.
Claypool logged an impressive 150 receptions for 2,159 yards (14.4 average) and 19 TDs, with his best season being last year where he went 66/1037/13 on the year. Important to note is Claypool played in an offense led by Ian Book, a smaller framed QB who struggles to push the ball downfield. That may be part of the reason his longest catch was 47 yards.
Claypool weighed in at the combine at 6’4, 238 lbs. and ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash with a 40.5 inch vertical and 126 in the broad jump. At that size, those numbers are very explosive and indicate a high level of athleticism. While those numbers are intriguing, he didn’t complete any other tests besides the bench press (19 reps).
The pros of Claypool start with his physicality. At his size, he can physically dominate those that are tasked with covering him. This makes him a real threat in the RedZone as well as on deeply contested catches. Claypool isn’t afraid to go up and get it, and nine times out of ten, he is the one that will come down with the catch.
Claypool has really good hands as well, something that tends to be an issue with these height-weight-speed options. He maintains good concentration during the entire play and will keep that focus through the catch. With his size, he can go up and pluck the ball with ease. This again makes Claypool an intriguing red zone option.
His play after the catch is impressive too. Claypool functioned in an offense that couldn’t sling the ball deep all that often, meaning Claypool made his mark in the short-intermediate game. His average remained high though due to his ability with the ball in his hands. He isn’t Diontae Johnson, who is shifty with the ball in his hands, but considering his size, he has plenty of juice to get around defenders and enough agility to make guys miss.
Finally, his blocking for a WR is amazing. Claypool shows a lot of nastiness as a blocker, and considering his size, he can move defenders on running plays. As well, he played gunner on special teams early on in his career, meaning he should have an instant role to playing time as he gets acclimated to the WR room.
The biggest issue on tape was Claypool’s get off and separation. Considering his size and speed, it seems like Claypool should be blowing past defenders off the snap and blazing past DB’s en route to the long score. However, a lot of his catches turned into contested ones as he had to fight it out with a defender throughout the catch. While he won most of these battles, he will be facing elite coverage guys in the NFL, meaning he won’t see this same success.
He seems to have two gears, one before he makes the catch and one after. He’s a lot slower right when the play starts and before he catches the ball. This attributes to a lot of the separation issues, as he never hits max speed until he has the ball in his hands. Once he does make the catch though, his 4.42 speed shows up as he can move down the field.
While this is an area he has to improve upon, a lot of these deficiencies stem from his QB play. With a QB that can’t push the ball deep, it makes running deep routes less efficient as the WR has to account for the QB. With a player like Ben Roethlisberger being able to throw deep, it could lead to Claypool hitting his top gear sooner than he did at college. This could lead to more success and separation from Claypool at the pro level.
His route running is a little underdeveloped too, but it isn’t as bad as I had previously thought. While he will need a little seasoning at the pro level, he should be able to grasp a pro route tree early in his career.
Looking at his fit, Claypool screams red zone threat early on as he develops the nuances of the position. As well, he has some inside-outside flexibility. Some said he would have to move to TE due to his size, but his athleticism and tape show a WR to me. The closest I could see him as a TE would be him playing out of the slot (similar to how Eric Ebron can). This is a way to utilize his size and ability to stretch the seam and attack the middle of the field. No, he isn’t a full-time slot player, but he could rotate in there as a mismatch weapon for Roethlisberger.
For his first year, think “next man up” and special teams’ demon. He isn’t going to land a starting role early on, but he should see some rotational work to get him on the field. I would expect him to see some slot work early on as well considering he can attack the seam. Assuming he works out some of the kinks in his separation, he should develop into an outside option and a good deep threat.
Overall, the sky is the limit for Claypool, and landing in an offense where he doesn’t need to produce a lot his rookie year while also catching passes from a future Hall of Famer should give him the best chance to succeed. Expect to see him early as a deep threat and close to the endzone to utilize his size. Long term, I see a starting outside WR who has the upside of a lesser Mike Evans: a big guy with a lot of athleticism but still relies on his size to win most of the time. Expect to see him early in sub-packages and often on special teams. This was a solid pick by the Steelers.