Steelers’ Chase Claypool Finds Mentor in Polarizing Former All-Pro WR

Getty Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool looks on-field prior to a game.

Chase Claypool burst onto the NFL scene in 2020 and surprised many with his game-changing talent. It was anticipated Claypool would ride that wave into his sophomore season; instead, he floated.

Receptions and receiving yards dipped minimally (873 to 860), but it was his redzone production the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the most. A force in the endzone as a rookie with 11 total touchdowns, Claypool only found paydirt twice in 2021.

To Claypool’s credit — and the Steelers’ scheme — he was a pleasant surprise in the run game with 96 yards rushing on 14 attempts (6.9 yards per attempt) and converted seven first downs. By comparison, running back Benny Snell had 98 total rushing yards.

Most weeks, though, Claypool’s head wasn’t in the game. Key plays at the point of attack regressed, and he brought on a drive-killing eight penalties.

Questions about Claypool’s maturity were raised, especially after drawing a foolish, unnecessary roughness call on Pittsburgh’s first drive. Mike Tomlin said after the game he benched the receiver for the childish act (though it was only for the remainder of the drive).

The final straw was Claypool celebrating a fourth-down conversion at the end of the game. I mean, good job, but the Steelers were down 11 points with only 40 seconds remaining. With no time-outs and the clock running down, the Steelers lost 17 precious seconds between plays and were forced to spike the ball due to Claypool’s antics.

“Obviously, he had a misstep in that area; he had missteps in other areas,” Tomlin said in December 14 press conference. He’s a young guy that’s growing and developing in a lot of ways — that can’t happen fast enough for him, and it can’t happen fast enough for us… there’s growth and development that has to take place.”

We all know Claypool has what it takes for the physical aspect of the game. But football is as much about the mental aspect, which Claypool, 24, has a lot to learn.

Enter Brandon Marshall.

Brandon Marshall Meet Chase Claypool

Pittsburgh native Brandon Marshall approached Chase Claypool at Super Bowl 56. Marshall had watched the receiver since his days at Notre Dame and saw what we all did — a talented guy who needs guidance.

“I walked up to him and was brutally honest with him and said you have huge upside and are super-talented, but you need to get your mind right,” Marshall told Steelers Now.

Over the span of a decade, Marshall was one of the league’s top offensive threats averaging 92 catches, 1,175 yards, and eight touchdowns per season. Marshall had six 100-catch campaigns and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in eight of those 10 seasons, per Pro Football Reference. Accolades came in the form of six Pro Bowl honors and an All-Pro selection in 2012, his first year with the Chicago Bears.

Off-the-field issues hindered Marshall early in his pro career with the Denver Broncos. ESPN outlined his behavior, including alleged domestic issues, battery and drunk driving, which earned him a reputation for being erratic. The Broncos had enough and traded Marshall to the Dolphins in Miami after the 2009 season.

In 2011, Marshall went public with his struggles with mental illness, revealing a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPA). The condition can often lead to depression, feelings of worthlessness, anger and mood swings.

In the decade since, Marshall has become one of the nation’s top advocates for mental health education and treatment through the Brandon Marshall Foundation.

Chase Claypool ‘Wants to Get Better’

Brandon Marshall, 38, has turned his life around from an NFL misfit to a campaigner for mental health awareness. Who better to show Chase Claypool how to turn things around? Though Marshall was, at one time, at an entirely different (behavior) level than Claypool will, hopefully, ever be, his mentorship could be just what the third-year receiver needs.

“He has to lean more into being a pro,” Marshall said. “You know I was just talking to him about studying defensive coordinators, and cornerback tendencies. We have to make sure he’s not doing too much, he’s getting off his feet a little bit and cutting off. He’s open to all of it. We had him down at House of Athlete going over things, and he had his notes out and his pen moving. He’s a sponge. Chase wants to get better.”

‘I’m a Top-Three Receiver’

In an offseason appearance on Brandon Marshall’s I Am Athlete podcast, Chase Claypool was met with backlash after making the following statement: “I know for a fact, I’m not like the rest of the guys in the NFL. I know I’m a top-five receiver. I know I’m a top-three receiver.”

When prompted to predict his stats for the 2022 season, Claypool responded, “We’re gonna go 1,300 (receiving yards), 10-plus (touchdowns).”

That’s the kind of bravado that Marshall has encouraged in his protégé.

“Anybody out there, you’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror, having an understanding of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish, and say it every f****** day,” Marshall said. “All he needs to do is put the mental together.”

Now Claypool needs to back up that attitude on the football field. You can talk the talk, but in the NFL, you need to walk the walk to be taken seriously.

A good start will be to limit the penalties and mental errors. The rest will come.