Chase Claypool smashed through his rookie ceiling in his first NFL season, and he believes he’s only scratched the surface of his potential.
Claypool spoke with NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano and Aditi Kinkhabwala following Steelers practice Monday and set a new bar for himself that would place him among the league’s top pass-catchers in 2021. After catching nine touchdowns in 2020, Claypool is aiming for double digits.
“We’ve got an extra game. Hopefully a faster start on the touchdown category,” Claypool said on Monday’s Inside Training Camp Live. “So I’m going to say 14 touchdowns.”
With playoffs included, Claypool finished with 11 receiving touchdowns in his inaugural campaign (and 13 total scores), but reached that mark while being shut out of the end zone for five straight weeks down the stretch of the regular season. Once overlooked in favor of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, Claypool became a focus of opposing defenses at the same time Pittsburgh lost its offensive mojo. It wasn’t a coincidence the Steelers lost three straight games from Weeks 12-14 while Claypool battled through a scoring drought.
The rookie rebounded late, scoring once in Week 17 and twice in Pittsburgh’s wild-card loss to Cleveland. He proved his lull was just that, and not a sign of things to come.
Pittsburgh’s offensive regression also coincided with (or was directly related to) a drop-off in effectiveness on the part of Ben Roethlisberger, who suddenly found himself mired in struggles while also fighting through late-season fatigue following an offseason spent rehabbing a significant elbow injury.
Now healthy and refreshed, Roethlisberger returns with the goal of picking up precisely at the point where the Steelers peeked over their offensive cliff, but hadn’t yet tumbled over the edge.
“He looks great. He’s putting the ball where it needs to be, and that’s all you can ever ask for,” Claypool said of Roethlisberger. “I’ve never really understood why people always question his arm strength. I don’t think he’s ever displayed in a game where his arm strength was an issue. His timing’s so good, even if his arm strength wasn’t where it was, his timing’s so good, he could time it up to where he doesn’t have to throw a bullet into a tight gap.”
To help with that effort, the Steelers replaced offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner with Matt Canada, who has focused on being able to attack defenses in a variety of methods that look purposely similar before the snap. Less predictability is always best for an offense, and after devolving into a pass-reliant group down the stretch last season, the Steelers are focused on bringing balance back to their unit.
“He’s getting into a lot of sets in different ways, which I think is nice because you can run the same play and make it look like three or four different plays,” Claypool said of Canada. “Half of the offense is the same as last year, and then some new terminology. So it’s not a whole new offense, whole new playbook, just some of the things that are different.”
In Claypool’s case, he’s gotten the first-year jitters out of the way. He’s ready to make a leap typical of a promising player entering his second season.
“Year 2 is a little bit about learning the new offense,” Claypool explained, “but it’s a lot more about building on your previous year, so the game slows down a little bit in a good way, and you can really dissect some of the things that are about to happen, and then you can look back on what just happened.”
If Claypool can follow through on his promises and ambitions for 2021, 14 scores isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Pittsburgh already proved it was willing to use his athleticism in a variety of fashions and watched him hit pay dirt 13 times. Fourteen (or more) isn’t far off — and would put him in the top three receivers in the league, if last year’s totals are an indicator of future production.
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