Chase Claypool made a splash his rookie season, stepping up big for the offense with 62 receptions for 873 yards, a 14.1-yard average, and nine receiving touchdowns, while adding 10 carries for 16 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
He opened plenty of eyes, especially in Week 4 when he scored four touchdowns in the Steelers 38-29 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Claypool had seven receptions for 110 yards, three of those seven catches were touchdowns, and also rushed for a two-yard score.
Claypool became the first rookie in team history to score four touchdowns in a game, and only the third player in team history to do so, the last one when Roy Jefferson caught four touchdown passes against Atlanta on Nov. 3, 1968, while also becoming only the third player in team history to score 24 points in a game. Claypool also became the first Steelers rookie with a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game since Franco Harris did it at Buffalo in 1972.
With the success, and as the season wore on, teams quickly took notice, often targeting him with double coverage, something he expects more of this year and hopes will open things up for the rest of the receiving corps of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson and Ray-Ray McCloud.
"They started doing that towards the second half of the year," said Claypool. "I think it's good because guys like Diontae, JuJu, James, Ray-Ray can really go off. Now that we have Najee (Harris) in the mix, it will be fine. If they put two on me, I'm fine with that as long as the other guys are eating."
Another thing that started happening in the second half of the 2020 season was Coach Mike Tomlin made sure he didn't hit the 'rookie wall' that so many have, limiting his snaps to make sure he was rested for the stretch run.
"I didn't really feel a rookie wall, I think it was more Coach getting ahead of it if he knew it was going to come near the end of the season," said Claypool. "Knowing we were probably going to be in the playoffs at that point, I think he was just trying to keep some guys up."
This year, Claypool is ready and willing no matter how many snaps come his way.
"Physically I was good to go for as many snaps as they need me for (last year)," said Claypool. "It all depends on the scheme and what they are trying to do in the game plan. Sometimes my snaps will be higher, sometimes they will be less. As long as I am playing a little bit, I will be all right, making an impact."
Claypool has been taking part in Steelers OTAs this offseason at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, something he didn't have the luxury of doing last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is finding a lot of value from it, including getting a jump on Matt Canada's new offense.
"It's pretty easy to transition into it because it's similar concepts like we've been running earlier on and last season," said Claypool. "It's not too much of a learning curve. I think it's just nice because we will be able to stick with it throughout the season.
"I think it's (OTAs) great in terms of installing plays, getting the timing down and just communication. Being around some of the younger guys, I know when I came in as a rookie, I didn't know anybody, so it was hard to talk to people about some things, like what is going on with the offense. I think it will be good for the rookies once it comes time for the season because they will be more comfortable with everybody and there will be more chemistry."
One of the differences the receivers could see in Canada's offense is a more aggressive approach when it comes to their role in the run game. It's something that many of the players on offense have been talking about, and they might be asked to make some changes themselves.
"I think we are not just going to be blocking corners, we are going to be coming down the box and trying to help out with some run schemes," said Claypool. "We're excited about that. We're ready to get our hands dirty."
He said it:
Claypool on JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signing with the team in the offseason:
"I think 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. We all knew he really wanted to come back, we just didn't know if it was possible. When he came back, I was excited because not only is he a good friend, but a good player, a good teammate too. He does a lot for us. Always good to have a guy like that in the building."
He said it, take 2:
Claypool on having Ben Roethlisberger back for his 18th season and how his relationship with him has developed:
"I am definitely happy he came back. There are very few quarterbacks in the league that can come in and bring that savviness and football knowledge. He might be one of two that can bring that knowledge and make the transition into the league easier. And then make everyone else's job easier.
"I think it's a lot more friendly. Less talk about football and more talk about random things going on, more jokes going back and forth. A lot more fun."
The Steelers participate in day 6 of the 2021 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex