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Chase Claypool is Having an Elite Season; But is He the Best Rookie WR in the NFL?

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If you’re to believe ESPN’s list of the best rookies in the NFL, Steelers 2nd round selection Chase Claypool isn’t one of them. He’s not in their top 10, nor was he one of their four just missed picks. Where’s Claypool? All the way down in the “also receiving votes” list along with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Julian Blackmon, CeeDee Lamb and Damien Lewis. That makes him between the 15th and 19th best rookie in the NFL this season. Which, all things considered, isn’t bad for the 49th overall selection.

Claypool would have to have a monster year to beat out Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow, and receivers rarely win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, especially compared to quarterbacks and running backs. Since 2000, Anquan Boldin, Percy Harvin and Odell Beckham Jr. are the only wideouts to win it.

So where does Claypool rank on the season? Here’s ESPN’s entire list of top rookies.

  1. QB Justin Herbert
  2. QB Joe Burrow
  3. WR Justin Jefferson
  4. OT Tristan Wirfs
  5. DE Chase Young
  6. RB James Robinson
  7. WR Tee Higgins
  8. RB Antonio Gibson
  9. OT Mekhi Becton
  10. S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Just missed: T Jedrick Wills Jr., OL Mike Onwenu, CB Jaylon Johnson, S Jeremy Chinn

If you take out the defense and non-skill offensive players, Claypool would fall behind only Herbert and Burrow, Justin Jefferson, James Robinson, Tee Higgins and Antonio Gibson and on the same level as CeeDee Lamb. At worst ESPN is saying he’s the 4th best rookie receiver in the league.

So is he? Here’s Claypool’s numbers compared with his WR peers.

Chase Claypool – 35 receptions on 57 targets / 500 yards / 14.3 yards per reception / 9 tds / 28 total 1st downs / 129.4 QBR when targeted
Justin Jefferson – 42 receptions on 54 targets / 752 yards / 18.1 yards per reception / 3 tds / 29 1st downs / 106.4 QBR when targeted
Tee Higgins – 40 receptions on 61 targets / 603 yards / 15.1 yards per reception / 4 tds / 32 1st downs / 119.8 QBR when targeted
CeeDee Lamb – 44 receptions on 68 targets / 595 yards / 13.5 yards per reception / 3 tds / 29 1st downs / 101.0 QBR when targeted

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The 11th receiver taken in the NFL draft, Claypool falls behind the competition based on receptions and yards, but dwarfs them in touchdowns (seven receiving plus two on the ground) and QBR when targeted. Based on those numbers, it’s pretty much a draw. What’s undoubtedly hurting Claypool is his perceived value to the offense. Claypool started out the season behind Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the depth chart and has only played in 64% of the team’s offensive snaps on the season, well behind Jefferson (74%) and Higgins (70%). Although Claypool has seen those numbers increase as the season has progressed.

While Claypool’s overall numbers are impressive, he’s still 3rd on the team in receptions, second in receiving yards and 2nd in total yards from scrimmage. On such a balanced offense, it’s harder to stand out.

Higgins has turned himself into the Bengals’ de facto number two receiver behind Tyler Boyd and is 2nd on the team in receptions, yards and tied for first with four touchdowns. Is Higgins having a better season than Claypool? That’s definitely up for debate.

Lamb started the season off hot, but without a real starting quarterback in Dallas, he’s seen his numbers slump in recent weeks. It would be a surprise if he ended up with better numbers than Claypool when it’s all said and done.

Then there’s Jefferson. Playing on a Minnesota team that lost Stefon Diggs, he has more receiving yards as the team’s 2nd and 3rd leading receiving combined (762 for Jefferson, 761 for Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph) as well as a gaudy 18.1 yards per reception, which is 4th in the NFL. Jefferson also has four games with over 100 yards receiving , is 7th in the entire NFL in yards and is 8th in the league in YAC amongst receivers. It would be hard to argue that Jefferson hasn’t been the best rookie receiver in the league this year.

So Claypool is at worst the 4th best receiver and is possibly the current runner-up behind Justin Jefferson. Despite being the 11th receiver off the board and drafted to a team loaded with offensive talent, Claypool has risen to (near) the top of the rookie rankings just nine weeks into the season. Pretty good for a player that some thought was more of a project (or a tight end) than a polished NFL-ready receiver.

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