For years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have provided numerous valuable assets in fantasy football. From Antonio Brown to Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger as well as countless others, the Steelers have been a team to rely on when looking for a lot of fantasy points. As we enter the 2020 fantasy football season, the team finds themselves in a unique position of having a number of players to choose from but leaving many to question who to draft in fantasy. We’ll look at why fantasy managers should be targeting rookie Chase Claypool and how he can help lead your fantasy team to championship gold this season.
Claypool put himself on the map in 2019
Coming into last season, Claypool was a relatively unknown prospect for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He was going into his senior season with his best performance to date having come in his junior year (50 receptions, 639 receiving yards, four touchdowns). That would all change in 2019 as he was the next Fighting Irish wide receiver to put his name on the map.
Claypool would flash a tantalizing blend of size and speed in finishing with a stat-line of 66 receptions, 1,037 yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns (tied for seventh-most in the nation). After that breakout 2019 season, he was a name that excited many in the fantasy football universe prior to the draft process.
Relative Athletic Score (RAS)
Going into the NFL Combine, Claypool was looking to ride the momentum of his breakout 2019 season. Not only did he do that but he absolutely dominated the combine. Per PFN’s own Relative Athletic Score (RAS), Claypool scored an outstanding 9.98 out 10, which had him tied for the second-highest score amongst all draft prospects.
His aforementioned size-speed blend gave him an “elite” grade while he finished with an “elite” explosion grade and “great” speed grade (with a blazing 4.42 40-yard dash). Combined with his terrific senior season, Claypool caught the eyes of everyone and put himself squarely on the map as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft class. That ultimately led to the Steelers selecting Claypool in the second round of this years’ NFL Draft.
How does Chase Claypool fit in with the Steelers in 2020?
The Steelers have been utilizing a lot of valuable draft capital on their wide receiver group over the past few seasons. Besides drafting Claypool with a second-round pick this year, they also selected Diontae Johnson with a third-round pick in 2019, James Washington with a second-round pick in 2018, and Juju Smith-Schuster with a second-round pick in 2017. With all that talent still on the roster, the question that lurked when Claypool was selected was around where he would fit into this young but talented group.
Prior to the draft and even after the Steelers selected him, some questioned whether Claypool could move over to tight end considering his 6’4″, 238-pound frame. But the Steelers have since then said he will remain at wide receiver. As a wide receiver, Claypool has the chance to make an immediate impact as a valuable target over the middle of the field and in the red zone, as PFN’s Nicholas McGee previously explained.
In 2019, Steelers’ quarterbacks only scored seven passing touchdowns on 47 attempts inside the red zone, a number that will need to improve for them to have a chance to compete in 2020. Claypool’s size and large catch radius will be an area for this offense to exploit in order to help the team become more efficient in the red-zone.
It’s no secret that the Steelers offense took a major step back in 2019 following Roethlisberger’s season-ended elbow injury. So positive regression is expected in all parts of their offense with him back under center. With a combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback last season, the Steelers failed to have anything close to the success they had in seasons past.
Just how bad was it for the Steelers wide receivers in 2019?
Johnson did finish 12th amongst wide receiver in PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) but Smith-Schuster (59th) and Washington (78th) struggled. Looking at PFN’s Consistency Score metric (CS), none of the top three Steelers’ receivers finished in the top-50 for the position. Washington (56th), Smith-Schuster (58th), and Johnson (63rd) all failed fantasy teams when it came to consistency in fantasy points. So besides Johnson’s strong score in OSM, none of the three did particularly well in 2019.
All three of Johnson (652), Washington (634), and Smith-Schuster (573) saw high snap counts in 2019, which presents a unique opportunity for Claypool. Additionally, something of note is that the Steelers played in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) on 70% of their offensive snaps in 2019. So not only do the Steelers largely utilize three wide receivers on the field but if Claypool can cut into any of three receivers snap count, Claypool could see a healthy amount of on-field time.
This is also not mentioning the fact that in 2018 (when he played his last full season), Roethlisberger led the league in passing attempts (675), passing yards (5,129), and was fifth in touchdown passes (34). Therefore, the Steelers could easily end up as one of the most pass-heavy teams in 2020.
What does this mean for fantasy football?
Currently, Claypool is the 84th wide receiver selected in half point-per-reception (PPR) leagues. That is much later than Smith-Schuster (12th), Johnson (41st), and Washington (74th). Claypool is, therefore, essentially going undrafted in most fantasy football leagues (260th overall). Someone with Claypool’s size, speed, large catch-radius, and red-zone prowess on a pass-heavy offense is going to need to be on every fantasy football managers’ radar come draft time.
With a much-needed upgrade at quarterback for this team from last season and the potential to earn a large snap share, there is an opportunity for Claypool to come in and make an immediate impact. That impact can especially come in the red zone where the Steelers struggled. All three of Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Washington come with their own risk while Claypool is an extremely high-upside rookie who could see a lot of the field and targets in his rookie season.
Claypool not only represents a much-needed upgrade for the Steelers’ passing game but he finds himself on a team known for producing high-scoring fantasy football assets. The team’s outlook as a whole is on the upswing and Claypool can be just as big of a reason as anyone else for why that will happen.
With where he is being drafted, he is a lottery ticket in fantasy football. However, we have seen many rookies be drafted late (or not at all) and end up becoming the reason fantasy football teams win their championships. Claypool has all of the traits needed to be the “next big thing” in fantasy football and needs to be on rosters come Week 1. Otherwise, you may lose out on the next elite fantasy receiver.