Talented young players like wide receiver Chase Claypool usually aren’t available via trade, especially when they’ve already provided solid evidence that 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 like 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 for Claypool.
Yet, even with all his promise, the Steelers were done despite the fact they’re rebuilding similarly to the Bears and could seemingly 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. But his best grasp of what happened in Pittsburgh was essentially that the organization saw a relatively low ceiling on his potential, whereas the Bears think he’ll be a star.
The sense that 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 ‘formation-ed’ away from those things.
“So it was super hard for me to make big plays, because anytime there was a big play drawn up, I was on the other side of it.”
The Bears sketched a much different outlook when Claypool arrived. Given the price to acquire him, 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 coming offseason.
Claypool is playing just his second game since the Nov. 1 trade, and while he’s picking the offense up quickly, he probably 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.
It’ll probably be double that Sunday, and he hopes to have a thorough grasp of the playbook when the Bears visit the Falcons next week. Claypool is learning a different route tree after spending the first half of the season playing in the slot for the Steelers.
Nonetheless, it’s clear from what he’s 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 like the scenario was, “Hey, 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 — he still has the most yardage (2,228) and touchdowns (14) in the group — and believes he is still ascending.
“Especially as the opportunities increase,” he said.
And they surely will, because both sides needed each other.
Darnell Mooney leads the team with 32 catches, which ranks 55th in the NFL. The next Bears wide receiver after him is Equanimeous St. Brown with 11.
Mooney, who also is due for an extension after this season, and Claypool 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’d be ideal if the Bears picked up an elite receiver with their first-round pick and worked toward a scenario where Claypool and Mooney rounded out their top three instead of leading it. That would be a formidable trio to help quarterback Justin Fields.