Chase Claypool’s gridiron journey will move from one fabled football locale to another.
Four seasons after Abbotsford’s Big Catch announced himself to the college football world in South Bend, Ind., with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver is on his way to Steel City for the start of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and its Hall of Fame quarterback-to-be Ben Roethlisberger.
Selected in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday, 49th overall by the six-time Super Bowl champions, Claypool was the 11th player picked at his position in one of the most receiver-rich drafts in NFL history.
“I think being on a team, an historic team with a proven background, especially for a quarterback like Ben, I think I was fortunate enough to be put in the right situation,” Claypool, 21, was quoted by TSN as saying after his selection.
Steelers’ offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner loved the old school way which Claypool plays the game and said as much following his selection Friday.
“There is no job too small,” Fichtner told steelers.com. “He will block. He volunteers for special teams. This guy is a football player. He has a lot of unique traits for the position. A lot of things to be really excited about. He gives you a potential red zone threat. He is an outside position player first and gives you the option of playing in the slot as well.”
Claypool really opened eyes when he clocked a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and that speed coupled with his innate ability to win battles for the ball in the air should make him a vital part of a young Steelers’ receiver quartet which already includes JuJu Smith-Schuster (23), James Washington (24) and Diontae Johnson (23).
“He is one of those rare types of a combination of size and speed,” continued Fichtner on steelers.com. “His production this past season (66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns) was off the charts. He finds ways to average a touchdown in every game he plays. He is a point scorer. He wins an awful lot of one-on-ones. I have never seen him not win a one-on-one type play.”
Claypool’s selection was also met with approval on the ESPN/NFL Network telecast by a pair of legendary figures.
Said NFL Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin: “What a great pick-up with Ben Roethlisberger coming back to expand on that group that they have… He’s a big guy that can run. He can go up and get the ball… This man is a touchdown machine.”
Added quarterback Kurt Warner, the former conductor of The Greatest Show on Turf: “I love that they added another weapon on the outside, (with a) good young receiver to build around JuJu Smith-Schuster. Big Ben’s going to be happy. I like where Pittsburgh is at.”
Claypool was a sponge for knowledge over his career in South Bend, soaking up everything he could over his first two seasons, and preparing himself well for the opportunity that would come over his junior and then breakout senior seasons.
“You could say I’m a late bloomer in the sense that I never really got my time to shine until my junior and senior year,” Claypool also told TSN after his selection. “I always thought I had the skill set. It just improved year after year.”
Claypool led the Abbotsford Panthers to the 2015 Subway Bowl B.C. high school Double-A championship final where his team lost to North Vancouver’s underdog Carson Graham Eagles 53-34 at B.C. Place Stadium.
That season he led all of B.C. high school football by catching 58 passes for 1,473 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“His senior year at Notre Dame looked like his senior year in high school,” Claypool’s head coach at Abbotsford, Jay Fujimura told Varsity Letters earlier this week. “He looked like the same kind of dominant player.”
Friday’s selection marked the first time since Santonio Holmes in 2006 the Steelers used their top pick in the draft on a wide receiver.
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