Chase Claypool: The WR, Not The TE
Matt Nein / @mnein9
One of my favorite rookie targets this offseason is, Notre Dame/Pittsburgh Steeler WR, Chase Claypool. People seem to be down on him because of the lack of production in college till his senior year and yet he is drawing comparisons to some of the great WRs in NFL history.
Chase Claypools’s Profile:
Claypool was selected with the 49th overall pick in April by the Pittsburgh Steelers. When it came time for the Steelers to make their pick, GM Kevin Colbert was shocked that Claypool was still available and then proceeded to pick him without hesitation. Throughout the entire draft process, the Steelers showed no indication that they were interested in Claypool at all. In fact, in an interview after the draft, Claypool stated how shocked and surprised he was that the Steelers drafted him because he had no conversations or visits with the Steelers prior to the draft. This isn’t the first time the Steelers have used this tactic though. In 2017 they drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster with the 62nd overall pick and also gave him no indication they were interested prior to the draft.
Chase Claypool is a monstrous physical presence on the football field. He thrives at high pointing the ball with body control and is extremely difficult for one guy to tackle. NFL scouts and GMs compare him physically to Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson. However, when you watch the tape it is clear to see that Jackson was a very stiff route runner while Claypool is much more fluid with his motions like Johnson was.
Claypool has the 3rd best height-adjusted speed score of all time (129.8).
“Claypool was a productive, durable player with great hands. He was also prolific as a blocker and special teams contributor, and his ability to win down the field was uncanny.” (@TommyJaggi a site expert for Fansided’s Steelers site and StillCurtain.com)
One of the biggest things that stood out to HC Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert was that Claypool improved every single year since his freshman year.
(Photo Credit: Pro Football Reference)
Claypool averaged 1 TD per game his senior year.
One of the main arguments I have been seeing against Claypool is that he didn’t have huge production his sophomore or junior years. Since Claypool’s freshman year, he has gone through 5 different QB changes. I think any rational person would agree that the repetitions, consistency, and timing between a QB and WR is critical for either player to succeed.
(SR) 2019 – Ian Book
(JR) 2018 – Ian Book & Brandon Wimbush
(SO) 2017 – Brandon Wimbush & Ian Book
(FR) 2016 – DeShone Kizer
(The underlined players were the primary starters that year.)
During Claypool’s SO and JR seasons, Brandon Wimbush posted completion percentages of 49.5% and 52.9%.
This is another reason Claypool’s numbers suffered because the QB didn’t know how to throw the football. Chase Claypool is 6’4’’ with an huge catch radius and Wimbush still couldn’t get him the ball. In addition to that, Notre Dame is a very run heavy team compared to most of the other teams in College Football. (RB University, Alabama Crimson Tide, have a lower run percentage than Notre Dame.)
(SR) 2019 – 52.38% (Run) vs 47.62% (Pass)
(JR) 2018 – 54.71% (Run) vs 45.29% (Pass)
(SO) 2017 – 59.47% (Run) vs 40.53% (Pass)
(FR) 2016 – 51.29% (Run) vs 48.71 (Pass)
Chase Claypool was a 3 year starter at Notre Dame.
Claypool’s freshman year, he played mostly special teams. He did appear in 8 games at WR.
Claypool’s sophomore year he was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Claypool was not even the number two option on the offense he was the 1B. The leading WR, Equanimeous St. Brown, only had 4 more receptions than Claypool did the entire season.
Claypool’s junior year he was also second in receptions, receiving yards, and TDs. Miles Boykin finished with 9 more receptions than Claypool did however Claypool out snapped Boykin by almost 60 snaps over the course of the season. (The coaches trusted Claypool more because of, yes again, his prolific blocking ability. This is why he outplayed Boykin.)
Claypool’s senior year he dominated. He led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and TDs. He had a target share of 28.6% while the next closest was the TE Kmet, 14.9%. This was also his first year of consistent QB play.
PFF had Claypool with 27 broken tackles on 151 career catches.
Claypool had 16 catches 20-plus yards downfield in 2019.
Will Chase Claypool switch from WR to TE? The answer is NO.
I recently had a conversation with Donnie Druin (@DonnieDruin), who covers the Steelers for Sports Illustrated and is very close to the organization, regarding Claypool potentially switching to TE and this was his answer:
“That is a resounding no from what I have seen and heard. Pittsburgh was enamored by his size and speed, so they will look to move him to the boundary while JuJu Smith-Schuster looks to get more work in the slot, where he is best suited. Although the hype was there for a while during the combine of Claypool playing TE, and his blocking certainly warrants that, he will be playing wideout.”
What Donnie and I discussed echoes the comments of what OC Randy Fichtner has been saying since they drafted him. He has no intention of Claypool playing TE. Claypool is going to come in on day 1 and play special teams right away as well as be involved in red zone packages. Claypool is still a very raw WR and has lots of room to improve. He got a late start to football compared to most others as he played basketball first and then transitioned to football. Of all the WR’s drafted in the 2020 class, I don’t think any of them come close to sniffing the potential upside Claypool offers.
In addition to playing the outside X receiver role, Fichtner has mentioned multiple times how he wants to teach Claypool to play the slot position. Fichtner also said he loves this kid because he is coachable and “there is no job too small for him”. Claypool should see a lot of playing time in his rookie year simply because of his prolific blocking ability. This is one if the reasons he was on the field so much at ND early on is because he is such a good blocker. With a high percentage snap count, the targets will come and with fantasy football, opportunity is everything. Being able to block is also very important for the run game; it makes the entire offense more efficient.
I expect him to take a Martavis Bryant type approach to begin the season. He will play situationally at first but as the season progresses it should quickly develop into a full time starter role. Claypool will enter training camp as the number 4 WR behind James Washington but it’s not so much of if he jumps him but more of when.
Steelers GM, Kevin Colbert, also has an excellent track record of drafting WRs over the last 2 decades. Some of those names include; Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant (great talent just too many off the field issues), JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Diontae Johnson.
Claypool has excellent route running skills for 6’4’’ 238 lbs. He has phenomenal short area quickness along with his incredible ability to shift his weight (238lbs) while running routes. Even for being a ‘big guy’, he can run every route on the route tree. He is very good with screens, slants, outs, posts, and of course the deep shots.
In this clip, CC runs a perfect out route. He does a tremendous job of shifting his weight from his left foot back to his right, which sells the DB like he is going inside but then cuts back out. The QB should of lead him to the sideline but didn’t. The throw was behind and CC does a great job of slowing down and using his frame to block out the DB.
The body control and awareness in this is insane. Awful throw, great catch.
Just because he is big doesn’t mean he is limited to fades at the goal line. Another great example of Claypool shifting his weight from one leg to the other selling the defender on the outside route then cutting back in.
But if you’re a fan of the fade, he can do that too. Press man coverage, gets around the defender and uses his 6’4” frame to go and get it.
In this clip, Claypool does a great job of readjusting his body while falling down to make the back shoulder catch. (Against an elite defense.)
Shortly thereafter, he uses his basketball back ground and strong frame to box out the defender for the TD.
Claypool’s rookie projection is 500-600 yards with 3-5 TDs. I have asked multiple people about how they feel about this projection and some responded by saying that this is his floor. It is very clear to see that the Steelers organization is extremely excited about Claypool and possibly the most excited they’ve been about a prospect in a very very long time.
Chase Claypool was able to produce on a run heavy team with a constant rotating door of QBs. Yes, I understand the numbers are not as good as some of the other WRs from the 2020 class, but if you watch the tape with the understanding of the setting and limitations he was in, there is no reason to think that Claypool can’t be the best WR from this class.