Steelers rookie Chase Claypool has a pick for Super Bowl 55 — if that’s OKFebruary 5, 2021
Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool believes at the close of the 55th Super Bowl, which will be contested Sunday between the Chiefs and Buccaneers, that the team standing amid all that flying confetti and holding up the Lombardi Trophy will be …
Wait. He’s allowed to have an opinion, right?
After all, he said the Browns were going to get “clapped” by the Chiefs in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, and for that he was excoriated by many in the media and public — even though that prediction turned out, more or less, to be correct. Perhaps he shouldn’t even bother with something as routine as a Super Bowl pick.
“I think Kansas City’s going to win. I just think their firepower with Kelce, Hill and Mahomes might be a little too much to handle,” Claypool told Sporting News. “But obviously I wouldn’t be too surprised if Tom Brady pulls out a win.”
Claypool just as obviously hoped the Steelers would be back in Tampa, the site of the most recent of their six Super Bowl victories, to compete in this game. And he had reason to believe, with most of the regular season complete, that the team was capable of getting there. The Steelers opened with 11 consecutive victories and were in position to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but they closed with four losses in the final five games and then were eliminated by the Browns in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Instead of taking the field at Raymond James Stadium in some combination of black and gold, he will watch from his home on DAZN Canada, the streaming sports media provider for which he has done a series of “Rookie Diaries” videos through his first year in the NFL.
“I think we had a lot of injuries to our team that took a lot of starters out,” Claypool said. He didn’t mention the names, but they were significant: linebackers Bud Dupree and Devin Bush, and even Bush’s replacement, Robert Spillane. “It’s tough to win in the NFL any game, so if you don’t have all your guys there, it’s especially tough.
“I think we’ll be fine moving forward and use that as a learning experience.”
Claypool told SN that he believes in the squad the Steelers have in place, although there are many futures still to be decided. Wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster is a free agent, along with running back James Conner and defensive backs Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has indicated he wants to return, but Steelers president Art Rooney II has made it clear that it cannot be at the current price: a salary-cap hit of more than $41 million.
Claypool does not have the scoop on how that will be resolved.
“I know just as much as everyone else. I’m just here waiting to see,” he said. He and Roethlisberger combined for eight touchdowns and 57 receptions in the regular season, plus another five catches and two touchdowns in the playoff game. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to call up his QB and pump him for inside information.
“I’m only a rookie so I can’t really call him and ask him what he’s going to do. He’s been in the league for so long,” Claypool said. “I’m just waiting to hear just like everyone else.
“I think he’s obviously a Hall of Fame quarterback. And if you’ve got a Hall of Fame quarterback, you want him to stay as long as you can.”
Claypool was selected by the Steelers in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the 11th wide receiver chosen. Many analysts had expressed the opinion that there were 10 great wideout prospects available. He was not considered to be one of them.
Which was odd, because Claypool is 6-4, 238 pounds and ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at last year’s NFL Combine. He caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final year at Notre Dame, and it’s not as if those numbers were the product of a high-octane, throw-it-every-down offense.
“I wasn’t like a super-flashy player in college,” Claypool said. “I think I just did what needed to be done. I broke out my senior year there, and I didn’t have a lot of coverage leading up to that. So I kind of took some people by surprise leading to as late as the Combine. People really started taking notice at the Combine, but by then it’s kind of late to build that momentum.”
He turned out to be one of the most successful receivers of the 2020 draft class. His nine touchdown receptions ranked first among rookies; he ranked fourth in catches and yards and was selected to the All-Rookie first team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
“I just think preparation, and also talking to the vets and asking for their advice throughout the season — and little things that I can do — really helped me,” Claypool said.
He will leave Canada sometime in the next several weeks to train in Southern California in preparation for his second NFL season. There, he expects to go against established NFL defensive backs to continue working on how to succeed against them.
“There’ll be some training in the LA area and Orange County area,” Claypool said, “and hopefully I’ll go against some of them and work on the craft that way.”