‘Always open’: Patriots’ Bill Belichick compares Steelers’ Canadian receiver Chase Claypool to Rob Gronkowski

Photos: AP/Emilee Chinn & AP/Doug Murray. Photo edit: 3DownNaton.

One of the greatest coaches in NFL history believes Canadian receiver Chase Claypool could pose some unique problems for defenders across the league.

The New England Patriots are scheduled to visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT and six-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick addressed the threat provided by Claypool in a press conference on Friday.

“Big, fast, really good hands, big catch radius,” Belichick said of the Abbotsford, B.C. native. “He’s kind of always open — like covering a guy like [Rob] Gronkowski, no matter where you are on him, there’s a place where he can reach and get the ball that you can’t reach and get the ball. So I know they use him in a variety of ways — down the field, catch-and-run plays, hand-him-the-ball plays and things like that.”

A six-foot-six, 265-pound tight end, Gronkowski was a key piece of the Patriots’ dynasty, earning four first-team All-Pro selections and winning three Super Bowls under Belichick’s tutelage. Claypool isn’t quite as large, standing at six-foot-four and 238 pounds, but he has offered a similar size mismatch early in his NFL career.

After being selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the University of Notre Dame product scored 11 touchdowns — nine through the air and two on the ground — while catching 62 passes for 873 yards in his rookie campaign.

The outspoken and sometimes controversial receiver followed that up with 59 receptions for 860 yards in 2021 but found the endzone just twice in year two. He is expected to play a bigger role in the Steelers’ offence this season, yet was largely held in check in Week 1 against Cincinnati, catching four passes for just 18 yards and carrying the ball six times for 36 more.

Nevertheless, Belichick believes that Claypool poses a significant challenge for his defence to overcome.

“He’s a big, physical player,” the future Hall of Famer continued. “Can block, block at the point of attack. Runs hard, you’ve got to tackle. Downfield receiver as well as a short and intermediate receiver. So, he can get you in a lot of different ways.”

Claypool stated before the season that he believes he is a top-three receiver in the NFL and set a goal of 1,300 receiving yards in 2022, a significant increase in production from his first two years.

A strong performance Sunday against the league’s most feared defensive mind would go a long way towards proving the Canadian is capable of making that leap, but it is clear that Belichick won’t be making the task easy.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.