The Pittsburgh Steelers already appear to have won the mid-season trade of Chase Claypool, when they turned the #3 receiver on a struggling passing offense into a 2nd round pick. The Steelers were 2-6 at the time, the Bears 3-5. The move seemed a little like a hockey trade, the Steelers were selling at the trade deadline, and the Bears hadn’t given up on their season and were looking to grab a big-bodied playmaker for their young quarterback. The rest of the season didn’t back up the move though, as the Steelers went on a 7-2 run to a winning record, while the Bears would go 0-9 to finish the season, earning the first overall draft pick, and turning the 2nd round pick the Steelers acquired into the 32nd overall pick.
The Steelers games with Chase Claypool featured an offense with four receivers all staying somewhat close to each other in yards. Chase Claypool had 311 yards, while Diontae Johnson led the team with 372. The receivers were close enough that if you add in all their rushing yards Chase Claypool is one yard away from passing Pat Freiermuth for the second most yards among Steeler receivers. After the trade, the Steelers threw fewer passes in the final nine games than they did in the first eight, they focused on running the ball and it paid off. Moving Chase Claypool wasn’t addition by subtraction in the receiver room, they missed him on jet sweeps and none of the depth receivers came close to replacing his receiving production, but the Steelers offense was still better because removing Claypool opened the door for a philosophy change that worked.
The Steelers used the pick from the Chicago Bears to select Joey Porter Jr. in the 2023 NFL Draft, and I wonder if that pick hadn’t been there if the Steelers would have traded up for Broderick Jones at all. It’s impossible to know, but it’s easy to see the Steelers draft benefited greatly from the trade.
The Bears got the receiver they wanted in the trade, but not the impact. Chase Claypool struggled mightily in Chicago, much more than would be reasonable to expect. While Steeler fans who didn’t like Claypool will say he stunk here so of course he stunk there, the stats say differently.
While Claypool certainly hadn’t lived up to the great promise he showed as a rookie in 2020, Chase Claypool wasn’t terrible, just disappointing. In fact his dip from 433 yards receiving in the first 8 games of 2021 to 311 in 2022 was a smaller drop in percentage of receiving yards than the one Diontae Johnson saw from 2021 to 2022. The entire passing offense was bad, the only players who saw increased receiving yards from the first 8 games of 2021 to the first 8 games of 2022 were Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry, the tight ends. But in Chicago Claypool was much worse, posting a sub-50% catch rate and only caught 14 passes in the seven games he played for the Bears.
It’s easy to see the Steelers won the trade so far, trading the 32nd overall pick in the draft for 2 receptions isn’t going to impress anyone. Claypool is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, so there is still time for the Bears to recoup value, but so far it’s a blowout win for the Steelers.
It could get even worse.
The Steelers brought in Hakeem Butler fresh off a first-team all XFL season. They replaced their 6’4”, 238 lb. receiver with 4.42 speed with a 6’5”, 227 lb. receiver with 4.48 speed. While putting up great stats in the XFL isn’t a guarantee of NFL success, it’s not worse than 14 receptions in 7 NFL games. . .
When you look at their skill-sets on film, the Steelers seem to have replace Chase Claypool pretty well. Butler has long arms and a great catch radius, but despite his size isn’t the most physical in his routes and doesn’t do a great job using his big frame and arm length to protect the football. Now that is a very rough comparison, and while Claypool has two seasons of good production in the NFL and Hakeem Butler has a lot of failed shots offset by one good season in the NFL, the Steelers don’t need Hakeem Butler to be 2020 Chase Claypool, in Pittsburgh he’ll be fighting for a depth spot on the roster, while Chase Claypool has a lot of pressure on him to be the #2 receiver on the Bears.
The funny thought is what if Chase Claypool continues to struggle in Chicago, and somehow ends up having a less productive season than Hakeem Butler. Because that would be a huge amount of salt to pour into the wound from that trade. But even if Claypool bounces back and is a solid #2 receiver for the Bears and Hakeem Butler isn’t able to be more than a #4 receiver on the Steelers who plays few snaps and doesn’t produce much, the 2022 season showed Claypool had lost most of his value in the Steelers offense once he lost the #2 receiver spot to George Pickens.
In the end, the Chase Claypool trade will be judged by how Claypool plays this year versus what Joey Porter Jr. brings to the Steelers, and the Steelers filling the gap Claypool left will likely be on the shoulders of Allen Robinson, but when you look at the threat size and speed brings to NFL offenses, the Steelers signing of Hakeem Butler gives them a similar combine athlete to Chase Claypool, no matter how the stats look at the end of 2023.