While the Packers spent their first draft pick on Aaron Rodgers' possible successor, the Steelers spent their first pick on a player who they are hoping can help Ben Roethlisberger finish off his career with another Super Bowl win.
With the 49th pick, Pittsburgh selected former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool, a big, strong target at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds who caught 13 touchdowns during his final season with the Fighting Irish. Claypool also has speed, which was put on display when he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash during the NFL combine.
"That downhill speed, and couple that with his size and ability to win one-on-one, that brings a lot to us," Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Ficthner said of Claypool, via ESPN's Brooke Pryor.
While he said that his new receiver is capable of playing in the slot, Fichtner said that he anticipates Claypool primarily playing as a wideout alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Pittsburgh's currently slot receivers consist of Deon Cain and Ryan Switzer. The addition of Claypool should allow Smith-Schuster to see more time in the slot, where he had significantly more success during his first three seasons. Smith-Schuster was forced to play more on the outside last season following Antonio Brown's departure.
Claypool was extremely productive during his final season with the Irish. Last fall, he caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards while averaging 15.7 yards per reception. Claypool was especially productive during the final six games of the season, catching 37 passes for 601 yards and nine touchdowns over that span. He was named the MVP of Notre Dame's Camping World Bowl victory over Iowa State, catching seven passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
Along with his size and speed, Claypool is also a good route-runner, something he put on display during Notre Dame's game against Georgia back on Sept. 21. He is also a good runner in the open field, often turning average gains into big plays for the Irish. Claypool is tough to tackle in the open field, as it often took multiple defenders to bring him down. He looks like a bigger version of Andre Reed, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Bills who also wore No. 83. Like Reed, Claypool has a unique blend of speed, power and toughness that should lead to success at the next level.
Fichtner was surprised that the Steelers were able to acquire Claypool with the 49th pick. While part of that is due to the overall depth at receiver that was in this year's draft, it could also partially be due to the fact that Claypool didn't have a big season at Notre Dame until his senior year.
"I never really had my time to shine until my junior and senior year," said Claypool, who was the 11th receiver selected in the 2020 draft. "I always thought I had the skill set. I just thought it improved year after year. I definitely broke out my senior year, but I thought I always possessed the skill set."
Roethlisberger, who is entering his 17th season with the Steelers, didn't waste time reaching out to his new receiver. In an e-mail to The Athletic, Roethlisberger said that he called Claypool on Friday, shortly after he was selected by the Steelers.
"I honestly don't know much about Chase other than his numbers and size, but excited," Roethlisberger said of Claypool. "I heard he's a good, hard-working guy and a great teammate. I'm sure he's excited to get to come share a (receivers) room and learn from a great player like JuJu."