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Chase Claypool: Boom or Bust

Has Chase Claypool hit a critical point in his young career?

In the midst of three straight winless weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers are searching for answers, across the board, at the moment.

This is a team that has no shortage of problems of their own to fix. Their second-year wide receiver out of Notre Dame isn't necessarily their biggest problem, but instead, one of their most confusing players on the roster.

The expectations were expectedly high this season for Chase Claypool after amassing 11 total touchdowns during his rookie season - an incredibly impressive feat for anyone. Ben Roethlisberger talked on multiple occasions about how he thinks the 6'4, 238-pound Claypool can be unstoppable.

Everyone was dying to see what kind of jump he would make in year two, after a full NFL offseason where he wasn't training for the pro days and getting ready for the draft.

Unfortunately, that second-year leap has been riddled with inconsistent play and Claypool has become a bit of a polarizing player in this Steelers offense. He and Roethlisberger have not quite been on the same page throughout the season, which has been puzzling.

Week 12's interception was another example. Roethlisberger was forced to step up in the pocket and throw before he wanted to, putting the ball was well behind Claypool, which led to an interception by Eli Apple.

More often than not, everything just looks really difficult between them.

The most valid complaint is that Claypool has really struggled to haul in passes that were either imperfect throws or throws contested by another defender. Entering Week 12's game against the Bengals, Claypool had only hauled in 82.1% of on-target passes this season. That figure ranks 67th out of 72 among pass catchers with at least 50 targets in 2022, according to Sports Info Solution. The contested catches have been a particularly big issue further down the field and almost always against smaller defensive backs.

It's not necessarily drops that have been the issue, either. While he will likely get dinged for two drops against the Bengals, he entered the game with just three on the season, per SIS. If you've watched the Steelers over the past two seasons, you know that drops have been a huge issue in terms of stalling drives, but that's not necessarily the primary problem for Claypool, making his up and down season all the more frustrating for everyone to watch.

Claypool has been this boom or bust type of player at the Z position in this offense. His 30% boom percentage (plays in which result in expected points added over 1) is 23rd in the NFL among receivers with 50 targets. This number isn't overly surprising despite the fact that he's only recorded one touchdown on the season.

A lot of his targets come down the field, and he's been able to provide some explosive splash plays for an offense that really lacks in this department.

The flip side of that coin is the problem and has been his downfall through nine games. Claypool's 25% bust percentage (plays which result in expected points added of -1 or more) leads the entire NFL among pass catchers with 50 or more targets. A lot of these plays have been backbreakers for the Steelers offense and have unfortunately came in crucial moments.

There are plays that won't necessarily show on the stat sheet, too. The 15-yard penalty for ripping Darius Philips' helmet off during yesterday's blowout was out of frustration. Something that a lot of Steelers were feeling yesterday, without a doubt. But you can't let your emotions get the best of you in a blowout like that.

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Potentially the most frustrating play of all was with the game on the line against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Steelers drew up a double move to Claypool, but his route was less than inspiring, and he failed to get open. Roethlisberger would then scan to the left side of the field, was hit as he let the ball go on a pass that was not close to Diontae Johnson.

The Steelers would send Chris Boswell out to kick a field goal but would go on to lose the game after a dagger from Justin Herbert to Mike Williams on the following possession.

In the long term, Claypool might ultimately be better suited for more of a move, chess piece type of role rather than the field-stretching role that he currently occupies. 

He's got work to do against press coverage and as a route-runner. Both of those things were expected based on his college film. 

What they really need from him sooner rather than later is for him to start winning some of these 50/50 balls and playing with more snap-to-snap consistency.

It hasn't been all bad for No. 11, though. Through 25 games, he's accumulated 1,481 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's really impressive after the catch and Pittsburgh would be wise to get him more catch-and-run opportunities. At the very worst, he's a baseline WR2 right now, in the middle of his second season in the league. But if he wants to unlock that potential that so many others see in him, it has to start with more consistency. 

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