When the Steelers added Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool with their first selection of the 2020 NFL Draft, the usual reaction followed. Some people loved the pick, some people hated it, and others felt very ‘meh’ about it. However, there were also those who took it as a sign that the front office didn’t like some of last year’s starting wideouts as much as we thought.
And while it’s obvious to see that some receivers might be seeing a little less playing time than they did last year as a result, the Claypool selection isn’t necessarily a message that Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington, or Ryan Switzer are on their way out of Pittsburgh.
Sometimes it feels as if Diontae Johnson is the only wide receiver Steeler fans actually want to keep around this year.
Whether you think it’s good or bad, Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert definitely had Ben Roethlisberger’s well-being on his mind during the offseason. The team is supremely motivated to win a ring for Ben in the last few years of his career, and there’s no better way to do so than giving the veteran quarterback good protection (Wisniewski, Dotson), as well as some new weapons (Claypool, Ebron).
All that to say, the front office doesn’t see the receiving corps as a weakness, but rather saw a chance to improve it - and did so.
Pittsburgh is a team that notoriously sticks to their draft board. Claypool was most likely the best player available to them at the time, and so they took him. Remember, Pittsburgh has one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, but their depth is questionable at almost every position. Claypool is wide receiver depth - and in a receiver room with only three clear-cut starters, a quality backup is a fantastic move for the offense.
Don’t forget that Claypool is a second round pick. This isn’t a first-rounder who needs to step in immediately like Devin Bush last year. Every player or position that the Steelers could have or did pick in the 2020 draft would be depth pieces on Pittsburgh’s roster this year. Claypool is going to start at #4 on the depth chart, and will have to work his way up from there.
NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano wrote an article on NFL teams’ personnel groupings from last year, and showed that the Steelers were in 11 personnel (3 wide receivers, 1 tight end) 70% of the time in 2019. Claypool adds a reliable fourth option at receiver into that mix, which will come in handy if someone gets injured, needs a breather, or Claypool is simply a better fit for that particular play.
Also, the return of Big Ben means the return of more empty sets. Going five wide only increases Claypool’s chances of seeing the field, all without taking snaps from someone else.
That same article mentions that the Steelers were using two-tight end packages over twenty percent of the time last year. Claypool’s size and blocking ability could have him playing some tight end in 2020 - especially since Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron aren’t exactly known for their health. Claypool’s physicality and athleticism provide the Steelers with a combination no one else on the roster has.
It looks as if Claypool will be carving out his own role on the roster, not taking someone else’s.
However unlikely, there’s always the possibility that Claypool turns into the second coming of Calvin Johnson, making it so the Steelers can’t afford to pay or play everyone in their wide receiver corps. However, Juju, Washington, Johnson, and Claypool are all still on their rookie contracts, and only Juju’s will be up next year.
It’s too early to tell what price tags these players will be demanding, or who exactly they will develop into. However, as long as these four are affordable, you can bet they’ll be sticking around on the Steelers’ roster.
Pittsburgh usually keeps six wide receivers on their roster each year. And most of them, at least the top four, receive plenty of playing time during the season.
The Steelers receiver depth chart will probably look like this at the start of 2020:
Claypool will be replacing Johnny Holton on the depth chart, filling in a similar role as a deep-threat and special teams gunner. He’ll be a massive upgrade there, but don’t get your hopes too high for year one.
The addition of Claypool won’t even push Ryan Switzer off of the roster - the Steelers need six wideouts total on the final 53 man roster, and Claypool and Switzer aren’t comparable players physically or role-wise. In fact, Deon Cain’s roster spot is probably in the most in jeopardy of any Steelers’ receiver this year.
Switzer is pure slot receiver, something that Pittsburgh doesn’t really have anywhere else. He’s also a solid, albeit unexciting, returner who could be starting there in 2020 if the team doesn’t want to risk Johnson on special teams. Switz isn’t exactly a terrible player, either. Fans love to hate him, but he is a reliable, tough, good locker room guy whose decent 2018 season was quickly forgotten after a down year without his starting quarterback.
Switzer’s role and spot on the depth chart will remain unchallenged in 2020.
With coronavirus possibly affecting or delaying training camps and other such things, it will be hard for players who weren’t on the team last year to displace any veterans. Being a familiar face will be many a veteran’s greatest weapon in securing a roster spot this year.
Even though Claypool has a guaranteed roster spot, a lack of rookie minicamp, amongst other issues, might slow his development. Thankfully, the Steelers have three proven starters ahead of him to weaken the blow, which will allow Claypool to ease into an exciting role in the Pittsburgh offense.
Chase Claypool is a dynamic new addition to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who might be the final piece in pushing their offense to the next level. However, he won’t be replacing any established Steeler receiver right away, even though the team will still find ways for him to play.