Chase Claypool’s second season with the Steelers was a disappointment. His production fell off, and fans and team observers began questioning his maturity and whether he belonged in Pittsburgh anymore. There was speculation that Chase Claypool should have already been traded in the offseason.
But Pittsburgh lost three of its key wide receivers, most notably JuJu Smith-Schuster. That leaves Chase Claypool atop the Steelers wide receiver depth chart next to Diontae Johnson heading into the 2022 NFL Draft:
Can We Still Have Hope For Chase Claypool To Break Out?
Stumbling After A Good Rookie Campaign
Chase Claypool fell significantly from his rookie year in 2021, as he did not build on his reception total, slipping from 62 to 59, and he tumbled from nine to two receiving touchdowns. From either production or intangible perspective, he did not progress as hoped.
Claypool remained a viable target on jump balls and contested catches, and his 14.3 yards per catch was comparable to his 14.6 YPC in 2020. But According to playerprofiler.com, Claypool’s catch rate of 55.4 percent did not rank in the top 90 of the league. His true catch rate of 74.7 ranked 96th.
Sure, Ben Roethlisberger dragged the offense down, but Claypool surely deserves a lot of the blame for not making the expected strides forward in 2021. Savvy team observers noted that he did not improve much as a route runner. Claypool was not a true fit in the limited passing game run by Roethlisberger, as he was not a possession-type target who thrived in the shorter attack as Johnson did.
Claypool’s yardage after the catch average fell from 5.3 to 4.8 last season. Catching screens and shorter throws from Roethlisberger certainly wouldn’t elevate his game. Still, Claypool created more tension with his behavior; he made his season mushroom into one of controversy and ire from the fan base.
His notorious first-down “pose and point” in a loss to Minnesota became a signature moment of his 2021 season. Claypool’s request to have music played at practices seemed to annoy Mike Tomlin, who does not operate quite the same as Pete Carroll in his approach. As some team observers put it, Claypool seemed to exhibit a “diva”-like persona, and he certainly hadn’t earned the right to display one yet.
In the postgame presser following the Minnesota debacle, Claypool did say he needs to “be better.” In early March, he posted on his Twitter account that he is “using last year as learning lessons.” Claypool may be realizing that he was stirring negativity and wants to put it behind him entering his third year in the league.
How Chase Claypool Fits With the 2022 Steelers
It will be good for Claypool to move on from last season, as the team is entering a new era without Roethlisberger in the mix for the first time since 2003. Now, the offense will be turned over to reclamation project Mitchell Trubisky. He should work well with Johnson, who can replicate Allen Robinson’s dependability when he was Trubisky’s top target in Chicago.
The WR depth behind Robinson was always lacking for Trubisky in Chicago. Having a big target with downfield potential could certainly lead to better results for the new Pittsburgh quarterback. The Steelers also have a new wide receivers coach, Frisman Jackson. So, the culture appears to be shifting in the passing game. Matt Canada can further put his imprint on the offense in just his second season as the coordinator.
We may have to wait and see what Claypool’s role is in the offense next season because there is a good chance that the Steelers may take a wide receiver with one of their early draft picks. This is a deep and impressive group of pass-catchers in the 2022 NFL Draft class. There may be less pressure on Claypool to be a standout number two WR if Pittsburgh also brings in a top rookie.
The Game Day’s 2022 NFL Mock Draft has the Steelers taking North Carolina QB Sam Howell at 20th overall. Trubisky is a risk who may not turn out to be more than a bridge quarterback. Either way, it would make sense to nab another viable pass-catcher for Roethlisberger’s true successor.
Suppose the Steelers draft another WR with one of the first few selections. In that case, Claypool could potentially operate as one of three top wideouts, having a clear niche as a sizable target with some big-play ability to complement the others. Suppose Pittsburgh does not draft another WR with a prominent pick. In that case, Claypool will be ticketed for a starting role, and it should be taken as a signal that the organization has confidence in him to improve as an all-around receiver and teammate in 2022.
Yes, 2021 was a rough campaign for Claypool; but, there should still be hope for him to at least become a vital part of the Steelers’ passing game next season. He certainly still has the promise to emerge as more than just a cog in the receiving machine. Claypool will be just 24 years old when the new season starts, with much apparent potential that has not been fully tapped into yet.
Author: Scott King; @scotteTheKing