Steelers Chase Claypool will have different path to success
Steelers Chase Claypool has been garnering attention during training camp, but a successful rookie year will likely look different than most rookie years.
Success is such a fickle word today, as it can be defined in a wide variety of ways. With the NFL season gearing up, the Steelers appear to be contenders this year after adding a variety of tools for the offense this offseason. The biggest addition, both literally and figuratively, was when the Steelers drafted Chase Claypool in the second round. Considering his impressive size and amazing athleticism, Claypool is dripping with potential entering his rookie year.
While early camp reports have been positive for him, Steelers fans must temper their expectations for Claypool his rookie year. Given the nature of the NFL season, rookies will likely have a harder time transitioning to the league due to a lack of offseason and minimal playing time before the regular season. On top of this, the Steelers have three capable starters at the WR position, meaning Claypool won’t have an instant path to the field.
Now, the same could be said for Diontae Johnson last year. He entered the season as the fourth option, but due to the monumental struggles of Donte Moncrief, he was forced into action sooner than later. That means for Claypool to see significant playing time, there would either have to be an injury to a player above him or a monumental struggle from one of the starters. None of those would be ideal, and while Claypool could work his way into a starting role based on talent alone, the odds of that happening next year are far more likely.
Considering Claypool is likely relegated to a reserve role, the definition of a successful season for him should be lower. He won’t have 100 receptions or 1000 yards, and he likely won’t even get close to half of those numbers. The opportunity simply isn’t there for Claypool to have a big rookie season while the rest of the receivers still thrive.
As a reference, Steelers WRs that aren’t one of the top three starters have averaged a combined 27 receptions over the past three years. That means targets won’t come easy for Claypool, and unless a disaster occurs with one of the top targets, Claypool will be lucky to have over 20 receptions. Thus, a successful rookie season for Claypool would likely net him 18 receptions. While that seems low, James Washington only caught 16 balls his rookie year, so 18 receptions seem like a realistic goal.
Given his athleticism, there should be some long targets in store for Claypool. He will be seeing a lot of targets in the red zone though, which will naturally limit his total yards. Given the mix he is likely to see, I’d expect Claypool to average around 12.5 yards per reception. A healthy average that pushes his stats to 18 receptions for 225 yards.
While those numbers as a whole seem low for a second-round pick, the only number the Steelers and fans should look at is TDs. Personally, I would love to see him net four total receiving TDs his rookie year. If he can prove to be a force in the red zone, his yardage and receptions will become secondary.
Considering his 6’4, 238 lb frame, Claypool has a natural physicality that bullies most DBs. He isn’t afraid to make the contested catch and take a hit, which is a huge trait to have near the goal line. The Steelers should be smart and try to get both he and Eric Ebron on the field at the same time near the endzone. While he can and should see the field more than just near the endzone, the reps he has in the red zone are the ones he needs to make count.
Is an 18/225/4 stat line a traditionally successful season? No, but for Claypool, it would showcase his ability to score and win physical matchups. Considering the complete nature of the Steelers WR group, having a pure touchdown machine could be a key to reigniting a lackluster offense. Claypool may not need to be dominant in every phase, but he needs to excel at what he was brought in for.