Who will be Pittsburgh Steelers most valuable wide receiver in 2021?

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have four quality wide receivers, but which one holds the most value to the team for the upcoming NFL season? 

The Steelers have several positions that are still a bit concerning as we approach the start of the 2021 NFL season. Fortunately, wide receiver isn’t one this team should have to worry about.

While Pittsburgh’s young receivers were a bit inconsistent at times in 2020, they have one of the deepest and youngest groups in the league right now and could take another massive step forward this season.

One thing the Steelers currently don’t have is a true number one wide receiver – at least by the media’s standard of the definition. That doesn’t mean that they can’t this year, but that player has still yet to emerge into that role.

In his first preseason action against the Detriot Lions, Ben Roethlisberger looked extremely comfortable in the pocket as he found his new weapons on two scoring drives. Last year, his target of choice was Diontae Johnson (no doubt thanks to his ability to create quick separation).

Regardless of how Big Ben chooses to distribute the football this year, which Steelers wide receiver will be the most valuable pass-catcher on the team in 2021?

Who will be Steelers most valuable WR this year?

This is a topic that will stir up much discussion, as there is no clear and obvious answer (as much as some fans would like to believe there is. Assuming all of their receivers stay healthy, this comes down to two players: Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a quality, reliable football player who does the dirty work over the middle of the field. The Steelers did the right thing by bringing him back for another season on a very reasonable deal this year. However, I can’t make a case for him being the most valuable receiver to the team this year.

JuJu doesn’t really have any defining traits, as he lacks elite route running and the ability to create consistent separation. Because of this, JuJu always has a man in his hip pocket. While he’s good after the catch, he can’t separate down the field. This is part of the reason why he has been asked to play the slot so often.

In my opinion, James Washington really isn’t all that far behind JuJu in terms of ability level. However, he’s also a very modest athlete for the position and he’s not going to get a lot of opportunity with so many targets on the team.

This brings us to the argument of Johnson or Claypool. Let’s start with the former.

Diontae Johnson is easily the quickest receiver on the team in addition to being able to create the most space. These are very valuable assets and part of the reasons why he can effectively play the ‘X’ receiver position. Unfortunately, Johnson hasn’t been very consistent so far in his NFL career despite a plethora of targets coming his direction.  Like JuJu, Johnson does much of his work in the short-to-intermediate game.

On the other hand, Chase Claypool is the only receiver on the roster right now who is a real threat to stretch the safeties deep. Despite being a rookie in 2020, he flashed the ability to win down the sideline, and he drew the most penalty yards of any wide receiver in the NFL last year (this is something that doesn’t count towards his statistical production.

While Johnson is extremely valuable to this football team, I think that Claypool is even more important thanks to his ability to line up all over the field and stretch the defense deep. Without this threat, defenses would stack more defenders in the box, press Pittsburgh’s wide receivers, and dare Ben to beat them deep.

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Chase Claypool certainly has room for improvement, and his hands have been a bit inconsistent this summer. However, whether it shows in the box score or not, I think a healthy Chase Claypool offers the most value to the Steelers offense in 2021.