The Pittsburgh Steelers raked in a second-round pick for Chase Claypool, but now they suddenly have big depth issues at the wide receiver position.
You won’t catch me sitting here complaining about the Chase Claypool trade. For the first time since I can remember, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a proactive move before the trade deadline in an effort to better themselves in the future (as opposed to being naively focused on a bad team in the present). They were awarded handsomely for their willingness to part with their slot receiver.
To the surprise of many, the Chicago Bears were willing to give up their original second-round pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft in order to acquire Claypool. When it’s all said and done, this could very well be a top-40 pick in the draft (potentially even higher, depending on how the Bears play the rest of the way).
I’m a firm believer that the Steelers did the right thing here. Instead of keeping Claypool for what would essentially be a year-and-a-half rental, they will be getting a high draft choice that could potentially stick around for years as a cornerstone player to this team. However, what does have me a bit worried is their concerning lack of depth at the receiver position for the remainder of the season.
I don’t think this would have been a huge deal if the Steelers didn’t already have some pretty bad injury luck at the position this summer. Pittsburgh spent a fourth-round pick on a small, but highly athletic receiver in Calvin Austin III. It was expected that the team would get him back after initially landing on IR with a foot injury. Sadly after his 21-day practice window opened, Austin was not ready and he ultimately had to have surgery to repair his injured foot. He is out for the year.
Likewise, Anthony Miller is a veteran receiver who was running with the first-team offense over the first few weeks of training camp. It looked like he was on track to make the roster as a backup receiver and potentially even a return specialist. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury during the preseason ended his season before it began.
If we were looking at the early pecking order over the summer, that’s potentially three of Pittsburgh’s top five or six receivers who will not be contributing for the remainder of this year. This forces other players to step up to the plate, as they will be asked to play roles on offense for the rest of the season.
Why Steelers WR depth is so concerning
Chase Claypool wasn’t exactly an X-Factor for the Steelers so far in 2022. After productive seasons in each of his first two years, he was averaging just 38 yards per reception this year. Replacing him shouldn’t be a major issue (though they are losing a big body and elite athletic traits from the slot).
Where the Steelers could run into trouble though is if Diontae Johnson or George Pickens were to suffer an injury that would keep them out of commission for any length of time. If this were to happen, Pittsburgh would only have one starting-caliber receiver on the roster to go with a bunch of replacement-level players — players who, quite frankly, wouldn’t be guaranteed to make the roster on many other NFL teams.
Something like this would probably force Miles Boykin into being a starting receiver in ’11’ personnel. However, the former Ravens receiver has just two catches since 2020, according to ESPN stats, and there’s a reason Baltimore let him go halfway through his rookie contract.
In the same way, Steven Sims has caught just two balls since leaving Washington in 2020, while Gunner Olszewski has just nine catches in his four-year career (only three of which came since the 2020 season).
Outside of Johnson, this is by far the least-productive wide receiver room in the NFL, and the lack of experience on offense could really hurt an already terrible Pittsburgh Steelers offense in the passing game. Let’s hope it doesn’t negatively impact the development of Kenny Pickett.