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Rise from the ashes?

Buffalo talking about Chase Claypool

Hold off on those Chase Claypool obits. Sean McDermott is talking as if the former Steeler might be able to salvage his career.

The receiver (who scored 11 touchdowns as a rookie with the Steelers) is "on a mission right now to reclaim what he once was" McDermott said Tuesday. If you go back to the 2020 season, you’ll see Claypool coming down with contested catches on downfield routes, looking like a star in the making.

But he’s had a rough few seasons. In the 2021 season, there was the weird play at the end of the loss in a Thursday night game at Minnesota, with Claypool celebrating a fourth-down reception while precious seconds ticked off the clock. The Steelers soured on him, sending him off to the Bears. And he didn’t do much of anything in about year in Chicago, skewered by fans for his lack of effort as a blocker in a home loss against Green Bay.

Claypool got picked up by Miami last year but couldn’t carve out a meaningful role.

Claypool understands that he’s at the point where he needs to turn things around. "If it's frustrating to the outside world, it's even more frustrating for me,” he says. “I understand where I should be. And I understand that I haven't met those expectations. And that's why I work harder and harder and harder and harder every year so I can meet and exceed those expectations."

I played around some with the numbers on this, looking for guys who looked really promising, then got really bad before re-surfacing. I didn’t really find anything I was excited about. Players like Kelvin Benjamin and Victor Cruz had big first seasons before getting injured, but that’s something different.

Suffice to say that it’s been a big drop for Claypool. After scoring 11 touchdowns in his first year, he’s scored only one touchdown in back-to-back seasons. Below see the last 20 other receivers who’ve scored at least 9 TDs in their rookie seasons, along with their stats from their third and fourth seasons. Claypool’s 2 TDs in those seasons is the fewest (only five others have caught fewer than 10).

There are two others who weren’t much more productive than Claypool in their third and fourth seasons. Louis Lipps (also a Steeler) had some injury issues; he returned to post top-20 receiving numbers in his next two seasons. Chris Sanders (Oilers) never got back to being a relevant player.

In the chart below, players are ordered by touchdowns scored in those third and fourth seasons. The three guys who scored more than 20 are at the top (Moss, Galloway, Tyreek). The low-scoring guys at the bottom.

ROOKIE RECEIVERS SCORING 9-PLUS TOUCHDOWNS
DraftPlayerRookie YearYears 3 & 4
1998Randy Moss, Min.69-1313-17159-2670-25
1995Joey Galloway, Sea.67-1039-9137-2096-24
2016Tyreek Hill, K.C.61-593-12145-2339-21
2016Michael Thomas, N.O.92-1137-9274-3130-18
1990Calvin Williams, Phil.37-602-9102-1323-17
1978John Jefferson, S.D.56-1001-13121-1972-17
2014Mike Evans, T.B.68-1051-12167-2322-17
2019A.J. Brown, Ten.52-1051-9151-2365-16
1984Daryl Turner, Sea.35-715-1032-487-13
2004Lee Evans, Buff.48-843-9137-2141-13
2014Odell Beckham, NYG91-1305-12126-1669-13
2003Anquan Boldin, Ari.101-1377-8185-2605-11
2018Calvin Ridley, Atl.64-821-10121-1655-11
2010Mike Williams, T.B.65-964-1185-1212-11
2014Kelvin Benjamin, Car.73-1008-9111-1633-10
1986Bill Brooks, Ind.65-1131-8117-1786-7
1996Eddie Kennison, St.L.54-924-1178-1069-6
2013Cordarrelle Patterson, Min.45-469-954-463-5
1995Chris Sanders, Hou.35-823-936-634-3
1984Louis Lipps, Pitt.45-860-1149-754-3
2020Chase Claypool, Pitt.62-873-1154-528-2

For fantasy purposes, I will add Claypool to the watch list. If he can get back to being the same player he was back in 2020, he’ll have a good chance of carving out a role for the Bills. If we’re getting 2020 Claypool, he (in theory) should be just as good (or better) as Gabe Davis.

The Bills are a work in progress right now at wide receiver. They drafted Keon Coleman and have Khalil Shakir coming back. They’ve signed Curtis Samuel. They’ve got a couple of other low-priced dart throws (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mack Hollins), and they drafted another big receiver last year (Justin Shorter).

I don’t see Claypool as rosterable right now, but some chance he can re-boot his career.

—Ian Allan

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