The loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster is a big blow to the Steelers offense. In terms of the underneath passing game, he was the go-to guy. His ability to get yards after first contact helped move the chains when the downfield passing game wasn’t working.
While the Steelers will miss Smith-Schuster, there was something that was made very evident in Sunday’s win over Denver: Chase Claypool should remain predominantly in the slot.
The deep passing game hasn’t worked with Claypool
Pittsburgh has tried making Claypool their go-to receiver in the deep game, but it hasn’t worked. Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward handled the second year man out of Notre Dame very well, and Patrick Surtain aUU won the few battles the two had outside.
Claypool is a physical specimen, but he doesn’t do well against physical corners. 50-50 balls have been more like 70-30 balls in favor of the defender this year when Claypool is targeted.
Claypool’s Successful Sunday vs Denver
When he was put in the slot Sunday, he made multiple big plays. The Broncos had Von Miller lined up on Claypool on the catch and run that went for 59 yards and set up a touchdown. Claypool was also lined up in the slot when he caught his touchdown later on in the game.
The Benefits of Moving Claypool Inside
The Steelers could kill two birds with one stone by making this move a permanent one. They would get the underneath production that is vacant from the Smith-Schuster injury, but they will also be making Claypool a bigger part of the offense.
His size and speed will create constant mismatches against slot cornerbacks and linebackers. Making Diontae Johnson and James Washington the outside receivers also makes sense. Washington was statistically the Steelers best deep threat last season, and Johnson is Pittsburgh’s best receiver when it comes to creating natural separation.
Moving Claypool inside opens up a lot of possibilities for the offense, and would be a move that pays off multiple times over.