When it comes to positional age on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 roster, the wide receivers might be one of the youngest on the team. Just look at the ages of the players on the current wide receiver depth chart:
Diontae Johnson (25)
Chase Claypool (23)
Miles Boykin (25)
Calvin Austin III (23)
George Pickens (21)
Gunner Olszewski (25)
During Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), which lasted two weeks, it hasn’t been Diontae Johnson who has been present the most. With Johnson missing the first week of workouts, Claypool has been the most tenured receiver at the position, and suddenly feels like an elder statesman, at age 23.
All reports coming out of OTAs has been Claypool being a person who is stepping up as a leader. This might make some Steelers fans chuckle considering the issues Claypool had in 2021.
There were the comments about how music at practice would somehow improve the team’s performance, and who can forget his first down gesture after catching a first down at a critical moment in the no-huddle vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football.
Either way, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud and James Washington gone, Claypool is jumping at the opportunity to be a leader. To step up and help others avoid some of the pitfalls he fell into in his first two years as a professional.
“I think it’s the first time on the Steelers where I felt like my voice is being actively heard,” Claypool said last week after OTAs. “And I’m taking that seriously. I try to to help young guys because I was there last year and two years ago.”
Take a quick look again at the depth chart above. Not only do you see all players in their 20s, but you also see a lot of inexperience in the Steelers’ system. Only Johnson and Claypool return, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the group in 2022 and beyond. In fact, Claypool has already seen a lot of improvement and chemistry developing within the wide receiver room.
“I think we’re looking better,” said Claypool. “You can see the chemistry kind of starting to form a little bit. So, it’s good that we’re all here getting some reps in.
“A lot of new or super young players, which is super exciting as well. You know we have a new playbook in a sense with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Matt) Canada now that he has fully implemented his game plan, so I think we’re having some fun out here.”
Fun. That’s a word you haven’t heard a lot of from a Steelers receiver in a long time. You might have to go back to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie season for the last time the receiver room was having “fun”, and not constantly trying to put our media fires at every turn.
Nonetheless, if Claypool is the player to step up and be a leader, so be it. Players can change, and they can mature. It happens at a different time for everyone, even though for some it never happens. Claypool getting the opportunity to be a leader might be just what the doctor ordered for Claypool’s career, as well as the extremely young and inexperienced wide receiver room.
With Johnson heading into the final year of his rookie contract, and Claypool with two years remaining, they both chase the ever elusive second contract from the Steelers for a wide receiver. Johnson may, or may not, get his second contract, but Claypool being a linchpin both on and off the field will only increase his value in the eyes of the organization when his rookie contract is about to expire.
The team starts mandatory minicamp today, Tuesday, and how the receivers perform, and who steps up as a leader, will be something to watch throughout the three workouts this week.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the final stage of offseason workouts before training camp begins at Saint Vincent College on July 27th.