As Steelers’ view of Chase Claypool dwindled, Bears saw limitless potential
Claypool saw Pittsburgh cutting back on his big-play opportunities and losing confidence in him, but he sees a huge opportunity with the Bears.
Talented young NFL players such as wide receiver Chase Claypool usually aren’t available via trade, especially when they’ve already provided solid evidence they’re going to be very good in the long run.
The Steelers were high enough on Claypool to take him in the second round of the 2020 draft, and it’s not as if he was a bust. Over his first two seasons, he put up 1,845 yards of total offense and scored 13 touchdowns. High draft picks sometimes don’t work out, but that clearly wasn’t the case with Claypool.
Yet, even with all his promise, the Steelers were done, despite the fact they’re rebuilding similarly to the Bears and seemingly could use exactly this type of player. They basically opted for a refund on Claypool when the Bears sent a 2023 second-round pick to get him.
And Claypool was eager for the fresh start — something players don’t usually need this early. His best grasp of what happened in Pittsburgh was that the organization saw a relatively low ceiling on his potential, whereas the Bears think he’ll be a star.
The sense the Steelers didn’t value him was more than a feeling. He saw it in their game plans.
“At some point, the perspective on me was like, ‘He’s not a red-zone threat’ for some reason,” Claypool said. “Or, ‘He’s not a deep-ball threat’ for some reason. I’m not sure when that happened, but I started getting ‘formationed’ away from those things. So it was super hard for me to make big plays because any time there was a big play drawn up, I was on the other side of it.”
The Bears have a much different outlook. Given the price to acquire Claypool, there’s little doubt they intend to make him a pillar of their future. With one season left on his rookie contract after this, it’s highly likely they’ll sign him to an extension in the offseason.
This week, he’s playing his second game since the trade Nov. 1, and although he’s picking the offense up quickly after spending the first half of the season playing in the slot for the Steelers, he probably still won’t be running at full capacity Sunday against the Lions. He caught two passes for 13 yards on six targets in his debut against the Dolphins, playing just 35% of the snaps.
That will probably double on Sunday, and he hopes to have a thorough grasp of the playbook when the Bears visit the Falcons next week.
It’s clear from what he has heard since he walked into Halas Hall that he’s going to get major opportunities once everything settles.
“You’ll have four or five plays where you can get a good chunk of yards,” he said.
In Pittsburgh, conversely, he felt the scenario was, “Here’s your one play of the week — make sure you make a play on this no matter what the coverage is.”
At 24, Claypool is the youngest receiver on the Bears’ roster, but he has the most career yards (2,228) and touchdowns (14) in the group and believes he’s still ascending.
“Especially as the opportunities increase,” he said.
And they surely will, because he and the Bears need each other. Darnell Mooney leads the team with 32 catches — 55th in the NFL. The next Bears receiver after him is Equanimeous St. Brown with 11 catches.
Claypool and Mooney, who’s also due for an extension after this season, give the Bears the best wide receiver combination they’ve had in almost a decade. But general manager Ryan Poles likely is looking for more than that.
It would be ideal if the Bears picked up an elite receiver with their first-round draft pick in 2023 and worked toward a scenario in which Claypool and Mooney round out their top three instead of leading it. That would be a formidable trio to help quarterback Justin Fields.