Labriola On

Labriola on if Claypool wasn't Steelers' pick

Ready or not, here it comes:

• "With the 48th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select Darrell Taylor, defensive end, Tennessee. Pittsburgh is on the clock."

• As the clock started ticking on the Steelers to make their initial pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, there were several things at work.

• The Steelers knew who they were going to pick. Their fans knew who they WANTED them to pick. And different factions of the media were poised to tell them who they SHOULD HAVE picked depending upon which player they actually ended up picking, because after all, hot takes and instant analysis pay the bills these days.

• Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

• "With the 49th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Notre Dame."

• And with that announcement, everyone got what they wanted. The Steelers got the guy they perceived to be the best player for them. The fans got what they wanted to fuel the whining and complaining that still goes on in some of the dark corners of Steelers Nation. And the media got what it needed to fill the days and weeks following the pick because of the cornucopia of "shoulda, coulda" options bypassed.

• There were Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins for the "We gotta pick a running back because James Conner can't stay healthy" crowd. Jalen Hurts for the "We need a better backup for Ben, and Hurts can be used as a Slash in the meantime" crowd. And Denzel Mims for the "If we're gonna pick a receiver, at least get a guy who posted a fast 40-time at the Combine" crowd.

• "We never go into (a draft) looking for a position," said General Manager Kevin Colbert shortly after the Steelers picked Claypool. "We have ideas where strengths of the draft class are, we have ideas where our wants are. And if they match up at a certain point, great. In the case of a wide receiver, we were excited that particular player was available to us. Not that position. Chase Claypool the player was available to us for all the reasons we stated. He's big, he's fast, he's strong, he's physical. He can make a contested catch. Again, when a player like him is available, it was easy. We didn't go in looking for any particular position."

• Then it happened. The doomsday scenario. Within the hour, the Baltimore Ravens traded up in the second round to pick Dobbins, and the world ended. The Steelers 2020 season was declared to be over five months before it started. Immediately after the pick, the Steelers were relegated to permanent after-thought status in the AFC and in the AFC North. Oh, the excess of riches – Dobbins to the team that had led the NFL in rushing in 2019. Start checking the tiebreakers for Wild Card spots in the playoffs, because first place in the AFC North is now the express property of the Baltimore Ravens.

• At least that was the perception as April 23 was fading into April 24. Today? Maybe even the Ravens wish the Steelers had picked Dobbins, or Akers, or especially Hurts, because that would have left them with the possibility of getting Chase Claypool.

• Looking at the Ravens who will face the Steelers on Sunday, Dobbins, at least this year, is an addition to an abundance of riches the team already has at running back. Maybe in the very near future, Dobbins will be a replacement or maybe even an upgrade for 30-year-old Mark Ingram, but this season the rookie is a backup, a hedge against injury.

• Just a few days ago, the Ravens were sufficiently dissatisfied with their wide receivers that they took a chance on Dez Bryant and signed him to their practice squad as a simple way of deciding if he will fit into their locker room and learning whether he can help their passing attack. It's revealing that the Ravens would sign a guy who will be 32 on Nov. 4 and hasn't played in an NFL game since the regular season finale in 2017, a guy whose previous attempt to hook onto an NFL roster ended with a torn Achilles in 2018.

• The Ravens offense is first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (164.3) and in average gain per rush (5.4), but the unit is 31st in the league in passing yards per game (177.8), and Lamar Jackson is 27th in completion percentage. Seven of the Ravens' 10 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, and not that those touchdowns count less than touchdowns to wide receivers, but it's apparent Coach John Harbaugh would like to get more of a contribution in this area from his wide receivers. If not, why this flirtation with Bryant?

• For the Steelers, Claypool has 18 catches for 333 yards (18.5 average) and four touchdowns, and five of his 18 receptions have covered 84, 39, 36, 35, and 32 yards, respectively. Baltimore's longest play by a wide receiver is 47 yards.

• So give it some thought, Steelers fans. Which player makes your favorite football team's fiercest rival more of a threat in 2020: another talented running back, or a big, fast, physical wide receiver? Because if you believe the Ravens' pick of Dobbins was a nightmare, imagine if they had gotten Claypool.

GOOD SIGN MOVING FORWARD
• It ended up being meaningless. Actually, it ended up being perceived as a negative because of the way it ended, but what the Steelers offense did midway through the fourth quarter against the Titans in Tennessee last Sunday was a definite bright spot.

• Maybe not for that game. But definitely moving forward for the rest of the season.

• The situation was this: The Titans had just scored a touchdown to cut their deficit to 27-24, and following a holding penalty on Henry Mondeaux on the ensuing kickoff, the Steelers began their offensive possession at the 9-yard line with 10:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.

• From there, the offense ran 16 plays, covered 82 yards, and consumed 7:38 of the game clock. On the possession, Ben Roethlisberger completed 10-of-14 for 72 yards, and the Steelers converted 4-of-5 on third downs, all on his passing. By the time the Titans got the ball back, there was just 2:35 remaining and they had just one timeout left.

• Of course, those kinds of things require a more positive ending than an interception in the end zone, but it's an unmitigated positive for the Steelers offense to be able to take the air out of the football to that degree in the fourth quarter of a game against a quality opponent.

STICK TO POLITICS, COATS
• With the presidential election just days away, the coverage of it seems to have reached a 24/7 intensity. It's very likely people have become weary of this, and it's also very likely that many of the weary come to places like this for a bit of a respite. But stick with me for a couple of minutes here, because I believe you'll enjoy the payoff.

• "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell recently spoke to Dan Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who was President Donald Trump's first Director of National Intelligence. In his first television interview since the president abruptly replaced him last July, Coats was talking about the fact he's worried about what could happen on Election Day.

• Coats: "The nightmare scenario is that on election night, people will draw conclusions or days after will draw conclusions that their candidate has been denied a victory and that public riots will result and violence might result from that."

• O'Donnell: "Have you seen any evidence of widespread fraud? Or anything that leads you to believe this will not be a fair election?"

• Coats: "No, I haven't, and the people I have talked to who are looking at this have basically said they have not seen this, at least at this point."

• During the interview, Coats went on to say the country that concerns him the most when it comes to disrupting the election is Russia.

• Coats: "They're the New England Patriots of messing with elections. I think they do it better than anybody else."

• Of all the dynasties in all of the sports over all of time, Coats picked the Patriots when the subject being discussed was fraud. Interesting.

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