On New Year’s Day 2022, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool had a Zoom call with the media in which he was asked—several times—to evaluate his performance in 2021.
“Chase, I know there have been some inconsistencies with the offense, but how would you describe your season this year?” asked Jeff Hathorn, sports director for KDKA’s Radio Morning Show In Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, we faced a lot of controversy,” answered Claypool, in an apparent slip of the tongue. “Or not controversy, like high and lows—ups and downs—of the season,” he continued. “We started off the season really good beating Buffalo and then we went 1-3 and then we bounced back. I think this team has been through a lot and I think we learned from it every week.”
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Chase Claypool 2021: A Year in Controversy
It’s funny that Claypool mentioned the word controversy in his off-topic answer because the second-year wideout was at the center of controversy at various times last year.
You may recall that in January 2021 Claypool engaged in a back-and-forth with “classless” Browns players following Cleveland’s AFC Wildcard win over the Steelers on January 10, an exchange that prompted ESPN commentator (and former Steelers safety) Ryan Clark to urge Claypool to just “shut up man.”
Then in March 2021, Claypool was tangentially involved in a bar fight that occurred outside a Southern California tavern, a fight that was captured on video.
And on the field, Claypool hasn’t had quite the same impact he had when he was a rookie, when he caught 62 passes for 873 yards and had nine touchdown catches and two rushing touchdowns. He even set a franchise rookie record by scoring four touchdowns in a Week 5 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a performance that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors; it also prompted Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to encourage Claypool to “stay humble.”
But in 2021, the former second-round pick (Notre Dame) delivered far fewer “splash plays,” having caught 51 passes for 807 yards with only one touchdown reception in 13 games played. Of course, it’s undeniable that the combination of a struggling offensive line and a quarterback who has oftentimes looked “extremely old” have hurt Claypool’s ability to produce. Many of his biggest plays have come on go-routes down the sideline, in which Ben Roethlisberger counts on Claypool to use his 6-foot-4, 238-pound frame to make a contested catch or draw a pass interference penalty. The toe injury that Claypool suffered during Pittsburgh’s Week 9 win over the Chicago Bears probably hasn’t helped, either.
An Ill-Advised First-Down Celebration and Ill-Advised Suggestion
But that doesn’t change the fact that Claypool has also been responsible for some self-inflicted wounds.
Most notably, he engaged in an ill-advised first-down celebration during the last minute of a December loss to the Minnesota Vikings, wasting precious seconds that the Steelers could have used when trying to tie the game amidst a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
Less than two weeks earlier, Claypool suggested that Steelers practices could be improved by playing music, a recommendation that was categorically rejected by Tomlin.
As for the requested self-reflection about his 2021 season, Brooke Pryor of ESPN inquired about that too, since Claypool didn’t really answer Hathorn’s initial query.
“On your season, specifically, you mentioned the offense as a whole has had a lot of ups and downs. How would you describe how your season individually has gone?” asked Pryor.
“Yeah, I would just correlate how my season has gone with how the team has gone,” Claypool said. “In terms of that I think there’s a lot of improvement. I’m excited for the improvement in the road ahead because I know that I’m only just scratching the surface.”
Steelers fans everywhere can only hope that is true.
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