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Chase "Mapletron" Claypool - The Next Great Steelers WR

In his debut article for TNFF, Ellis Bryn Johnson (@YoitsEllis_FF) discusses the reasons why you should be drafting the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie WR Chase "Mapletron" Claypool.

Twenty-two-year-old, Abbotsford native, Chase Claypool will start his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. The Steelers are a very familiar franchise for fantasy owners after having produced multiple fantasy relevant running backs and wide receivers over the years. However, the Steelers dynamic has changed a lot in the last two years. Between the comical downfall of Antonio Brown, the Le’Veon Bell money saga, and Ben Roethlisberger's injury in 2019, what can fantasy owners expect from the Steelers in 2020?

In what appears to be a crowded passing offense, one thing can be certain - Big Ben Roethlisberger will create the opportunity to have multiple fantasy relevant wide receivers. Prior to his injury, Big Ben was coming off a league leading 5,129 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. For fantasy, this enabled both Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster to be top ten fantasy wide receivers. Each eclipsing 1200 yards and 7 TDs. 

Two years later, we are left sitting with only Juju Smith-Schuster as a proven commodity, the breakout expectation of Diontae Johnson, and a forgotten James Washington. I wrote a previous article breaking down Diontae Johnson’s potential breakout, which you can find here. However, in this article, I aim to outline Claypool’s second-round talent and his potential role within the Steelers offense.

The Chase

Chasing upside is what you will be doing by drafting the Candian athletic monster Chase Claypool. Here are his athletic measurables from PlayerProfiler:

Claypool did not run the three-cone drill, indicating why he does not have an agility score. However, he is six foot four, 238lbs, with a 99th percentile speed score! How can you defend that? These attributes are also why some were expecting him to be labeled as a tight end and not a wide receiver going into the 2020 NFL draft. These expectations quickly dissipated once the Steelers drafted him and touted him as a wide receiver. 

Claypool’s breakout season was last year at Notre Dame, collecting 1,037 yds and 13 TDs in 13 games. With this, he managed to lead all college wide receivers in contested catch rate (57.7%) and was ranked as the NFL's sixth-best wide receiver prospect by Sports Illustrated. Ultimately, this led to his selection with the Steelers' first pick of the 2019 draft (pick 49). This is the highest pick the organization has spent on a receiver since Santonio Holmes was the 25th pick in 2006. Clearly, they saw something in Claypool. Professional rookie profiler Matt Waldman describes Claypool as having the potential to be a productive NFL starter if he can work on his inexplicable drops and clean up his route tree. Although not a perfect prospect, Claypool’s athleticism and receiving ability could carve out a nice role in an offense that has yet to claim a redzone weapon.

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The Situation

As previously stated, the last time we saw Big Ben healthy, we also saw two WR1 seasons from his weapons. Obviously, the current receiving core does not compare to the talent of Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster, however, there will be fantasy points to be had. My proposition is that in order for Claypool to emerge for fantasy, he ideally needs (and will) take the redzone work. 

Last season (without Big Ben) the Steelers had a total of 23 red zone targets to the wide receiver position. Juju had nine, Diontae Johnson had seven, and James Washington only had three. This is definitely an outlier season since the previous two with Big Ben, the Steelers averaged 60 red zone targets to their wide receivers. The red zone is known for tight coverage and contested catches. Despite this, Diontae Johnson was able to rely on his separation and lead the Steelers in touchdowns despite having the lowest contested catch rate (16.7%).  In comparison, Juju and Washington had rates of 50% and 56% respectively. Obviously, contested catch rate is not a direct indicator of red zone success. However, since Claypool led all college wide receivers in contested catch rate, it definitely helps his redzone ability. Recognizing this redzone hole in their offense, the Steelers acquired touchdown extraordinaire TE Eric Ebron this offseason. Although this may appear to limit the touchdown role of the wide receivers, Big Ben is not known to excessively rely on the tight end. Compared to the 60 red zone targets averaged to the wide receivers, the tight end position averaged a meager 16 over the last two seasons with Big Ben.

What’s the Potential?

Over Big Ben’s last three seasons (2016-18) he has averaged two passing touchdowns a game. In this time, Juju averaged 0.47 touchdowns per game with Big Ben as the starter. The tight end and running back positions have averaged six and four touchdowns respectively. Taking these numbers as potential estimates for the 2020 season, we can predict a breakdown for next season. If we extrapolate that Big Ben will throw 32 touchdowns, we can clearly identify the potential touchdown distribution. Of these 32 touchdowns, we can further predict that Juju may receive a career-high eight touchdowns while distributing six and four touchdowns to Ebron and the running backs respectively. Ultimately, this leaves roughly 14 touchdowns up for grabs, which is more than enough to split between the other players, while making Claypool a very productive rookie. 

Based on the failure of Juju Smith-Schuster to establish himself as a dominant perimeter receiver, there have been talks of moving him back to the slot. This will create a competition for the outside roles and ultimately the lion's share of the leftover touchdowns. Between Washington, Johnson, and Claypool, two should prove to secure the perimeter for the team. Here is how they compare physically (from left to right - Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool) :

Clearly Claypool dominates in this regard. Not only does he have the athletic metrics, but he has the more stereotypical physical properties of a perimeter wide receiver, especially since he is the only one over six feet tall. It is important to recognize that physical prowess does not solely make a great wide receiver. A prime example of this is Diontae Johnson last year, as he was the most productive on the team while holding the worst physical and athletic metrics. However, based on the perceived endzone role that is vacant, the failure for Washington to emerge last season, and the poor contested catch rate of Johnson, Claypool is worth the investment in fantasy. I would be happy drafting Claypool in the second round of dynasty rookie drafts and scooping him up with my last pick in redrafts. Not many players have the kind of upside Claypool has on this offense, plus he is Canadian! As the famous Canadian hockey player Sidney Crosby once said, “shoot your shot” and draft Chase "Mapletron" Claypool.

Thank you for reading my debut article with TNFF. Do you agree or disagree with my take on Chase "Mapletron" Claypool? Please leave a comment or message me on Twitter @YoitsEllis_FF

Edited by: Joe Simonetti (@joesimonetti77)

Graphic work: Dan Made Graphics (@DanMadeGraphics)