Tim Benz: Steelers WR Chase Claypool still hasn’t learned the difference between confidence and false bravado

During a recent episode of the “I Am Athlete” podcast, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool said that he sees himself as a top-five — or perhaps even top-three — wide receiver in the National Football League.

“I’m not normal. I feel that way when I’m on the field. I know for a fact I am 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,” Claypool told hosts Brandon Marshall, LeSean McCoy and Adam “Pacman” Jones (at the 32-minute mark in the link above).

When McCoy asked Claypool for some specific numbers, he predicted 1,300 yards and “10-plus” touchdowns.

Claypool better hope his off-season forecasting skills have gotten better from last summer. Prior to the 2021 campaign, he told the NFL Network that he was expecting to score 14 touchdowns. He also said that (“humbly speaking”) he’d be in the top 60-65 of the NFL Network’s Top 100 list.

He wound up with two. Not exactly NFL top 60 material.

If Claypool is going to work his way into the top five (or top three) of NFL wide receivers, which of these NFL superstar pass catchers are going to be bumped down that list to make room?

Cooper Kup? Justin Jefferson? Davante Adams? Yes’Marr Chase? Deebo Samuel?

Those are the top five players in the NFL when it comes to receiving yards. Do you see Claypool displacing any of those guys? How about the likes of the next five wideouts on the list: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Tyler Lockett, (his own teammate) Diontae Johnson or DJ Moore?

yes Neither can I

Especially since touchdowns weren’t the only category where Claypool’s statistical production dipped in his second season. As a rookie out of Notre Dame, Claypool scored 11 times in 2020, only to see that pace drop by nine in 2021.

That was in 16 games during 2020. Claypool played 15 games in 2021. His receptions dropped from 62 to 59. His yards dipped from 873 to 860. He also caught five fewer first downs (41-36).

So, given that he played one less game, Claypool’s numbers were essentially flat to slightly down in just about all areas beyond touchdowns.

That made this next quote from the podcast just as quizzical as the first one.

“My second year, I was a better football player than I was my first year,” Claypool said. “The plays just didn’t work out. Some plays just didn’t go my way. I didn’t make some plays that I needed to make. But, as a football player — understanding the game, knowing what to do, knowing where to be — I was better.”

By what measure, exactly? It certainly wasn’t numerical. Based on that ill-timed pose-and-point in Minnesota, I’m not assuming that understanding of score and situation is what Claypool means. How about those eight penalties he received during 2021? Only Johnson had more among NFL wideouts with nine. Claypool only had one as a rookie.

So he wasn’t better in those areas either.

Confidence is a good thing for NFL players. False bravado isn’t. The Steelers have tended to specialize in the latter for the past five years. Claypool has been part of that problem.

Let’s see if his crystal ball is a little more accurate in 2022.

Even if it isn’t, that may not be so bad for Claypool. He doesn’t have to be a top-three pass catcher in the NFL for me to suggest that he’s had a successful 2022. Given the presence of Johnson, tight end Pat Freiermuth, rookie receiver George Pickens and the receiving skills of running back Najee Harris, I’d settle for Claypool being a top-three receiver on his own team.

Tim Benz is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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