Canadian receiver Chase Claypool is embracing the increased attention as he prepares for his second NFL season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Claypool finished his first rookie year in 2020 with 62 receptions for 873 yards and nine touchdowns, plus 10 rushes for 16 yards and two scores — 11 total touchdowns. He became the first receiver in the Super Bowl era to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games.
The 22-year-old produced those numbers without attending rookie mini-camp or organized team activities last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This time around Claypool can be in the facility learning Matt Canada’s offence as the Steelers transition to a new play-caller. It also gives the Abbotsford, B.C. native more time with franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“It’s a lot more friendly, less talk about football, more talk about random things going on, more things being said back and forth — a lot more fun,” Claypool said during a videoconference about his relationship with Big Ben from year one to two.
During OTAs, Roethlisberger invited the skill position players over to his house and a game of PIG took place on the basketball court. The 39-year-old franchise pivot was bragging after showing up his teammates, Claypool is 16 years younger than the two-time Super Bowl-winning QB.
“I had to show them the old man is still hard to beat,” Roethlisberger said during a videoconference. “That is a fun group and that is one of the reasons why I wanted to come back.”
“I had worked out right before I went there, my upper body was a little sore, so I missed a couple shots — uncharacteristic,” Claypool responded.
Since last season ended, Claypool has been working to improve his freakish athleticism. He is left side dominant and wanted to balance out his body by focusing on the right side. On the field, Claypool has been learning from former Pro Bowl receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh. Claypool wants to build on his standout rookie campaign, even though opposing defences scheme to stop him.
“They started doing that towards the second half of the year, but it’s good because guys like JuJu [Smith-Schuster], Diontae [Johnson], James [Washington], and Ray-Ray [McCloud] can really go off. And now that we have Najee [Harris] in the mix, it’ll be fine. If they put two or cloud me I’m fine with that as long as the other guys are eating,” Claypool said.
Smith-Schuster led the Steelers with 97 receptions last season and really helped Claypool acclimate himself to the NFL level. The one-time Pro Bowler was a free agent in the off-season and elected to re-sign with Pittsburgh for one-year and $8 million. Claypool was excited to have his good friend stay with the Steelers.
“A lot of people were expecting him not to come back, not because he didn’t want to, but because of the cap space situation,” Claypool said.
“We all knew he really wanted to come back, we just didn’t know if it was possible. He does a lot for us — always good to have a guy like that in the building.”
In 2020, Smith-Schuster topped the Steelers skill position players with 923 snaps while Claypool checked in at 692. Head coach Mike Tomlin managed Claypool’s workload in his first year and the six-foot-four, 238-pound pass catcher appreciated the foresight from the longtime bench boss.
“Physically, I was good to go for as many snaps as they need me for,” Claypool said. “As long as I’m playing a little bit, I’ll be alright, make an impact.”