On Oct. 11, 2020, the world became introduced to Chase Claypool.
During that Sunday afternoon clash, “Mapletron” burst onto the scene. The rookie receiver accrued seven receptions for 110 yards, plus four total touchdowns — including one on the ground. Claypool set a new franchise record for scores by a newbie, sparking the Steelers’ 38-29 win over the Eagles.
If you had asked anyone in the Steel City abut Claypool two years earlier, fans would have told you Kevin Colbert had discovered yet another uncut gem at wide receiver. Now in 2022, though, the reality is not quite as picturesque.
Since his standout rookie season, in which he tallied 873 receiving yards and 11 scores, Claypool has had his fair share of ups and downs with the Steelers. Sure, his statistical numbers may appear similar on the surface, but the 6-foot-4 Combine star has routinely irritated fans with poor technique on jump balls, ill-advised decisions under duress and spotty game-to-game production.
As a result, it’s not entirely a surprise to see Claypool being touted as one of the more intriguing options during this year’s Trade Deadline, set for Nov. 1. The WR will be a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, and Pittsburgh has talent at the position in Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Calvin Austin III.
Per reports, GM Omar Khan is not inclined to want to ship Claypool — and, if he were to do so, apparently a prized second-round pick would be warranted by teams looking for receiver insurance.
From an asset management standpoint, it’s unlikely that a team would grant Pittsburgh a top-64 selection for the inconsistent Claypool. Beyond that, though, there is definitive incentive to retaining Claypool in the short term.
Let’s begin with maybe the most obvious reason: the current, healthy, available depth within Mike Tomlin’s receiving corps. While Pickens’ ascendance has been thoroughly entertaining, Austin will miss the entire 2022 season after being placed on IR during training camp. If Claypool were to be dealt, the Steelers would have to regularly incorporate someone like Gunner Olszewski or Miles Boykin into their weekly gameplan; neither is close to the caliber of player that Claypool is.
Given the volatility of the NFL thus year, it’s fair to say that the Steelers may not totally be dead in the water just yet — even if they sit at 2-6 entering their bye week. Entering Sunday, only 13 of 32 franchises have winning records; the same number boasts a positive point differential. Besides the Bills, Eagles and Chiefs, a logjam of mediocre teams exits — and the Steelers, as they’re wont to do, could sneak right into the picture. If, for nothing else, Pittsburgh should retain Claypool to field the best roster it can during a chaotic NFL season.
Besides 2022, Claypool offers tremendous value in the future. 24-year-old, 6-foot-4 receivers who run 4.38 in the 40-yard dash are nearly impossible to come by; even with his own struggles, Claypool’s elite 9.98 Raw Athletic Score makes him a mismatch, whether in the slot, on the outside or simply in the open field.
It’s also extremely important to consider that Pittsburgh’s offensive staff has not exactly demonstrated command of scheme or skill in the last two years under Matt Canada. On top of that, Claypool has had to shift more inside this year: 80.4% of his snaps have come from the slot, as opposed to 18.7% in 2021.
Without a doubt, a sizeable portion of this blame falls on Claypool, but it’s difficult to evaluate him alone within an extremely futile scheme. Assuming Pittsburgh intends to switch offensive coordinators this offseason, flaunting Claypool as a toy to operate with would attract that many more potential candidates.
That leads into my next topic: that, if the Steelers do want to cut ties with their 2020 second-round pick, the offseason would be a far more logical point.
When the trade market iron becomes scalding in January, February and March, there will be no shortage of suitors for Claypool; in fact, many of them will have sustained interest through this fall. Likewise, Khan and Mike Tomlin will have had a full 17 games with which to evaluate Claypool, leveraging that to determine how he slots into their long-term goals.
Chase Claypool is yet to produce a stretch reminiscent of his dominant rookie self, something which suggests it may be time for the Canadian and the Steelers to go their separate ways. Yet if Pittsburgh actually receives an offer that meets its lofty criteria and deals Claypool in the next few days, the ramifications would harm not only the rest of 2022, but beyond.