Let’s Not Bury Chase Claypool Just Yet (Fantasy Football)

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Chase Claypool was drafted with the 49th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. It was a stacked wide receiver class that included the likes of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr., Gabriel Davis, Darnell Mooney, and Brandon Aiyuk. Jefferson led the way with his historic rookie season, but Claypool put up the second-most fantasy points of the class that season and finished as the WR19 on the year.

Fast forward two years, and we see the awkwardly perceived moment when Claypool himself announced wide receiver George Pickens as Pittsburgh’s selection with the 52nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This came just a few months after he finished as the WR37 during his second season, which may be best remembered for the boneheaded play he made in the closing seconds of a Week 14 loss to the Vikings. Many in the fantasy football world took this combination of events as a sign to bail on Claypool.

As of this writing, Claypool is going off the board as the WR46 by average draft position (ADP) at the end of the ninth round. But before we throw that last shovel full of dirt on his fantasy outlook, let me explain why we shouldn’t bury Chase Claypool just yet.

The Stats

Claypool’s sophomore campaign felt like a letdown after his strong rookie season, but if we zoom out, it might not be as bad as we remember. The table below compares the stat lines of his first two seasons.

2020 2021
Games 16 15
Routes Run* 432 484
Targets 109 106
Target Share 17% 19%
Receptions 62 59
Rec Yards 873 860
Rec TD 11 2
Rush Attempts 10 14
Rush Yards 16 96
Rush TD 2 0

*via PlayerProfiler

As Mike noted on the recent AFC North Breakdown episode, the only glaring difference between the two seasons is the major disparity in touchdowns. Every other metric listed in the table was nearly identical. In fact, since he played one fewer game in 2021, all the non-touchdown stats listed went up in 2021 on a per-game basis.

As I mentioned in the intro, the 2020 receiving class is trending towards becoming one of the best in recent memory. How should Claypool be viewed within this class? The table below shows the top-ten fantasy scoring wideouts from the 2020 draft class.

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Fantasy Points Receptions Rec Yards Rec TDs Total TDs 2022 ADP
Justin Jefferson 506.6 196 3,016 17 17 WR1
CeeDee Lamb 368 153 2,037 11 12 WR6
Tee Higgins 343.2 141 1,999 12 12 WR12
Chase Claypool 321.0 121 1,733 11 13 WR46
Darnell Mooney 300.8 142 1,685 8 9 WR30
Brandon Aiyuk 296.8 116 1,574 10 12 WR42
Michael Pittman Jr. 273.5 128 1,585 7 7 WR17
Gabriel Davis 227.8 125 1,148 13 13 WR36
Laviska Shenault 223.6 121 1,219 5 5 WR95
Jerry Jeudy 197.6 90 1,323 3 3 WR19

Despite having the fourth most fantasy points and third most total touchdowns, Claypool is being drafted as the ninth receiver from the class in 2022 fantasy drafts. That is far too low based on the overall production over his first two seasons in the NFL.

A New and Improved Situation

We know Claypool has elite talent and athleticism. He boasts a 100th percentile speed score, joining Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson as the only two players at their size to run the 40-yard dash under 4.45 seconds. Now we have reason to believe he’ll have a much improved offensive environment in 2022.

Let’s start with the most obvious change. With the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh will be trotting out either Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at quarterback. As detailed in my recent under the radar changes article, either quarterback will profile to hang on to the ball longer and throw it downfield more often. Trubisky and/or Pickett are also extremely more mobile than late-career Roethlisberger, allowing the Steelers to run more play action and bootleg pass plays, not to mention the ability to scramble and keep plays alive longer. This fits right into Claypool’s downfield big-play ability. More deep shots for Claypool should equate to a significant increase in his fantasy production.

The arrival of George Pickens should also open up more opportunities for Claypool. Early reports from Steelers camp suggest that Claypool could see more time in the slot this season. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s only lined up in the slot at a 20.5% rate over his first two seasons. More slot snaps can lead to defensive mismatches and increased success for Claypool while still allowing him to make big plays downfield. For reference, JuJu Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot at a 61% rate for Pittsburgh during his best fantasy season in 2018 when he put up 241 fantasy points and finished as WR9 on the season.

Low Risk, Massive Reward

Chase Claypool is the perfect receiver archetype to target in fantasy drafts. Unless his ADP sees an unexpected meteoric rise throughout August, you can draft him as a depth receiver with massive upside. He’s seen over 100 targets in each of his first two seasons, which could see an increase in a modernized Pittsburgh offense after Big Ben’s retirement. He’s shown the ability to put up week-winning performances early in his career and is due for some positive touchdown regression in his third NFL season. He could legitimately finish 30 spots ahead of his current ADP. That isn’t somebody we want to bury, that’s somebody I want to target in every draft.

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