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Can Chase Claypool take his game to the next level in 2022?

After a lackluster second season, how can Claypool be put in a position to take a leap in year three?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging on through the 2022 offseason. Looking at a number of players and positions as the roster has fluctuated, sometimes it’s players the Steelers have on their roster taking a step that can really add to the coming season. Hoping that 2021 was a year Chase Claypool saw a jump from his rookie season, Claypool didn’t build on his outstanding 2020 season. So can 2022 be the year Claypool takes his game to the next level? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

A lot has been said about Chase Claypool‘s down season in 2021. While Claypool did not come through with improved play that one would hope for in a second season, the numbers show there was not very much of a drop off except in the category of touchdowns. Although he played in one less game in 2021, Chase Claypool did see 131 more snaps than in his rookie season. When looking at the difference in the numbers, Claypool had four less targets, three less receptions, and only 13 less yards than what he had in 2020. Additionally, Claypool saw an increase in rushing statistics as he had four more rushing attempts for 80 more yards.

Where the numbers really went down for Claypool in his second season was having seven less receiving touchdowns and two less rushing touchdowns. Going from 11 total touchdowns as a rookie down to only two in his second season makes everything else seem small in comparison when it comes to the numbers.

In all for 2021, Chase Claypool had 59 receptions 105 targets for 860 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He added 14 rushes for 96 yards as well. Claypool’s most productive game came in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos where he had 130 receiving yards on five receptions and a touchdown, his only game of 2021 where he crossed the century mark in yardage. Additionally, according to Pro Football Reference Claypool only had five drops on the season which were spread out throughout the year with no more than one in a given game.

So while the numbers were comparable with Chase Claypool as he moved from year one into year to, except for the obvious decrease in touchdowns, how did his play evolve on the field? This will come down to looking at the film.

The Film Line:

Chase Claypool had a similar season in 2021 to his 2020 rookie campaign, outside of touchdowns. But despite growth in several areas of his game, his season is likely most remembered for plays like this.

Steelers vs. Bengals, fourth quarter, 11:53.

This wasn’t a new addition to Claypool’s game though, it showed up plenty in 2020.

2020 Steelers vs. Ravens, first quarter, 12:02

Chase Claypool is the receiver in motion to the bottom of the screen.

Claypool doesn’t do well securing the catch or protecting the catch window on either of these passes. These passes both are to Claypool’s outside shoulder. You can see he is trying to square up his frame to make the catch and isn’t able to defend his space when he does.

Compare those to a similar throw when he has no one around him.

Steelers vs. Chargers, second quarter, 13:02.

He makes the catch with laser focus, but he gets narrow and doesn’t protect the catch at all. A better move here is slowing down early to stack the defender and catching the ball over his shoulder. Chase Claypool doesn’t do that. A lot of Claypool’s drops are on these deep balls to his outside shoulder.

Some of the problem can be solved with quarterback play. Go back and look at the Bengals’ clip. That ball could easily have been led in front of Claypool without any threat from the safety. In fact, the biggest difference in Claypool’s game in 2021 is the lack of throws leading Claypool up field or inside. Ben Roethlisberger’s arm wasn’t the same, and I don’t know if the ball just carried outside or if Roethlisberger didn’t trust his arm to split the defense anymore, but those throws were there in 2020.

2020 Steelers vs. Jaguars, second quarter, 7:00.

Chase Claypool is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

That’s not an easy catch at all, but the ball is in front of Claypool and in-stride and he makes the play for a touchdown.

Even when passes aren’t on target, Claypool does a good job fighting back to the ball when it is thrown inside.

Steelers @ Bengals, first quarter, 6:01.

Claypool suddenly looks like a bully when he is working toward his eyes instead of backwards. In 2021, Chase Claypool’s two touchdown receptions were 18 yards and 6 yards. Five of Claypool’s nine touchdown receptions in 2020 were longer than that, most of them on passes that led him either directly up field or to the middle of the field.

2020 Steelers vs. Eagles, second quarter, 11:57.

Chase Claypool is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

Chase Claypool is explosive on slants and post routes, and teams started sitting defenders in hook zones to take those throws away not long after this game. But when Ben Roethlisberger was still leading him effectively, Claypool was still producing. It wasn’t just Roethlisberger either, this one was from Mason Rudolph in the only game he has played with Chase Claypool, one of Claypool’s three 100+ yard games.

2020 Steelers @ Browns, 4th quarter, 10:13.

Again we see Claypool work back to the ball, stack the defender, and make the catch.

This is Chase Claypool at his best. When Claypool has to adjust to balls that are underthrown or to his back shoulder, he isn’t the same player at all. He doesn’t protect the ball well, and he struggles to stay on his feet. It’s on Chase Claypool to work on his game and get better at making catches he currently struggles to make. But it is also the Steelers responsibility to put him in places where he can succeed more reliably.

I’ve been saying for a while that Chase Claypool isn’t a great Z receiver, and this shows why. He isn’t that streak down the sideline and make contested catches type of receiver that thrives in that role. I think the Steelers saw the same thing and addressed it this offseason.

The Point:

The Steelers added a player in George Pickens that better fits what they want from the Z receiver, and as a rookie, he will likely be used in that role the way Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant were. Lots of deep routes to stretch the field, open up space for other receivers and have plenty of chances to make plays on throws to the sideline.

We’ve been hearing that Chase Claypool is working more in the slot, a spot he played well in 2021. That’s a role that works well with his skillset. It allows him to work the middle of the field more, run more in-breaking routes, and he won’t be regularly asked to run deep sideline routes that require catches that he isn’t good at.

If the Steelers quarterbacks can develop chemistry with Chase Claypool, we could see a breakout season from the Steelers third-year receiver.