Which Steelers WR Has a Brighter Outlook?
By: Corey Dunn
The NFL is an entity with constant change and moving parts. No team can escape the inevitable hard decisions that seem to linger in the offseason. The team that will be focused in this article are the Pittsburgh Steelers, mainly Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They played in an amazing offense that seemed to stall out towards the end of the season, coupled with an elite head coach and plenty of question marks. Will Ben Roethlisberger return? Will he be effective? Will they have similar roles in the upcoming season? Let’s dive into the analysis a little here.
For starters, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are by far from identical, despite finishing close to each other in the higher end WR20 range. Diontae is a smaller receiver at 5’10” 183 pounds and fits more of the Antonio Brown role that has been void since his departure in 2019. He is the kind of volume dependent wideout that Big Ben loves to turn into a star. With 10 plus targets in 10 of his 14 healthy games, he filled the role admirably, albeit only 6.4 yards per target. On the other hand, Chase Claypool is basically a superfreak that was created in a laboratory. He’s a freak at 6’4” 238 pounds, also running a 4.42 forty. He has a rare combination of size and speed that GM’s and head coaches drool over. He was routinely a downfield target, ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in air yards and an average target distance (aDOT) of 13.3 yards.
Next, we need to know who is throwing them the ball. This is where it gets tricky. Ben Roethlisberger is rumoured to be returning to the Steelers with a new contract to be less of a cap hit, ESPN reports. I still don’t think it’s set in stone that he is returning, but I think it is around 65-35 leaning that he gives it one last go around. Mike Tomlin runs the most pass heavy offense in the league, averaging a league high 42.6 attempts a game. The Steelers have a good history of quarterbacks, so I have confidence in their ability to bring in a quality signal caller and trust Mike Tomlin’s so support multiple wideouts in the top 24.
Finally we get to talk about the outlook of the wide receivers. First up is Diontae Johnson.He has elite footwork and has established himself as one of the best route runners in the NFL in just his second year. Despite being a smaller receiver, he carried a large load for the offense. We mentioned the intangibles earlier, but let’s dive deeper into the numbers now. The former Toledo Rocket carried the WR1 load for the Steelers offense with 144 total targets, but disappointed with 923 yards and a 61% catch rate. He was banged up a little early, which is concerning given the fact that he is a smaller receiver. The flashes of talent showed up inconsistently, however I did enjoy watching him work underneath. Most of his success came from slants, curls, and screens and him turning it upfield for a chunk gain. The biggest red flag was the league leading 11 drops during the season. The fact of the matter is that you cannot be an Alpha wideout with these types of stats nowadays. He can enjoy success but I’m not quite sure he can be a trusted fantasy WR1. He will consistently be around the WR2/3 range for the rest of his career. I do think he has a very solid future as a slot receiver in the NFL, but is a better real life football player than fantasy asset. Now, onto Chase Claypool.
Chase Claypool has a ton to be excited about, but first let’s dive into the blemishes. I noticed that he would disappear a lot in games, most likely to the amount of go routes to open up the field underneath. Also, like his colleague Diontae, he struggled with drops. He had 5 drops on the season, which is not terrible and will likely be chalked up as rookie struggles.I don’t think that will be a major issue going forward though. His 56.9% catch rate on 109 targets is a tad concerning too. I think this is due to most of his targets being downfield and having less shallow routes for higher percentage targets. Now the good news. He had an 80.5% true catch rate and opened up a new page of the playbook as a field stretcher. His huge frame was also used a ton in the red zone, having 13 targets within the 20. He is only getting better and will be fun to watch going forward. I think that he has the type of frame and future workload to be a Mike Evans caliber of player. He simply has too much talent to keep wrapped up and it will be bad news for the league when he figures it all out.
To sum everything up, both wideouts will be someone you want to own in dynasty. Diontae will have his best seasons as a target hog, but with his role being a question mark after next season, he might be a sell high candidate.The futures of both hinge on where Juju Smith-Schuster goes. If he stays on a long term deal, it will be interesting to see how he eats into the shallow targets of Diontae Johnson. Chase Claypool is the piece of the offense that I would want, as his role is off of big plays and he doesn’t need a lot of targets to get to his value. His ceiling is 40+ points and we have already seen him hit that as a rookie. His speed will sneak up on slower defensive backs and he will have many chunk plays. Diontae’s ceiling is lower to me at around 26 points, which isn’t bad, but is purely volume based. A ceiling comparison for Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool would be Steve Smith and Vincent Jackson, respectively. I don’t believe DJ will reach his full potential once Big Ben retires though. I would recommend selling high on Diontae and getting as many shares of Chase Claypool like he’s GameStop or AMC.