Updated: May 31
In many ways, the art of becoming a proficient vertical threat receiver, is one that is not
afforded to everyone.
The best receivers in domain generally have one or many of these attributes; speed, strength concentration, and determination. Every so often, you get a player with all these noted attributes all wrapped into one; in games, receivers like this pose a serious problem to opposing defenses. Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool happens to be one of those receivers who has these attributes, and he proved to be an issue for opposing defenses for much of his college career.
In his freshman year, Claypool has the distinction of becoming only the eighth Canadian player in Notre Dame history to appear in a varsity game. That year, he caught only five passes for 81 yards, but contributed on special teams, registering 11 tackles and eight punt return tackles. Claypool's sophomore year saw him take a big leap offensive, as he registered 29 receptions for 402 yards. His most notable game that season came against Wake Forest, where he caught nine passes for 180 yards. In his junior year, Claypool emerged as an important offensive weapon for the Fighting Irish. In 12 games, he amassed 639 receiving yards on 50 receptions and four touchdowns. Then his senior season, Claypool became arguably Notre Dame's most consistent offensive threat. In addition to leading his team in receiving yards with 1,037, his 13 touchdown receptions were the sixth most in program history. He would cap off his career as the MVP of the Camping World Bowl, after registering seven catches for 146 receiving yards.
Claypool demonstrated during his time with the Fighting Irish, his ability to stretch the field, using his gifted speed and route running abilities on the outside. Yet one should not make label him a one-trick pony, as Claypool is able to affect the game in various spots.
True Vertical Speed
Claypool is one of the few receivers, whose play speed and his NFL combine speed compliment each other. At this year's NFL combine, Claypool ran a blistering 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash event, which is incredible considering his size. On the outside, his ability to accelerate and separate during the stem has proven to be challenging for opposing defensive backs to handle.
In this sequence, Claypool is positioned on the outside, opposite a Northwestern cornerback in a soft press coverage. For any receiver, the key to winning the stem is the release. When the ball is snapped, Claypool executes a speed release on the outside of the defender (note the slight delay prior to the release). Before the Wildcats defender can adjust, Claypool already had him stacked. With enough space between the defender and the sideline, he tracks the ball in the air and makes the reception for a big gain. In this sequence, Claypool accomplished several things;
He successfully attacked the Northwestern defender's leverage outside.
He used his high-level speed to get the separation he needed.
He displayed the ability to track the ball while in the air and come up with the reception.
Running Crossing routes
Claypool is no stranger when it comes to running short or intermediate routes, if anything, his boundary play is as strong as his ability to take the top off opposing defensive backs.
In this sequence, Claypool is positioned on the outside, opposite a Georgia cornerback showing bail coverage. Based on the distance between him and the Notre Dame tight end on his side, Claypool is the 'z' receiver in this sequence. When the ball is snapped, the tight end releases first; as the defensive back drops back to account for him, Claypool executes a quick slant inside where he receives the ball. He proceeds to break a few tackles and comes close to getting the first down. Considering how often NFL offenses utilize west-coast concepts, Claypool can be as effective in gaining yards down the middle, as we would on the outside.
When a big receiver is gifted with speed and athleticism, it often causes mismatches against opposing defensive backs; inevitably during the course of a game, that receiver will draw one or several penalties. In Claypool's case last season, his size and speed proved to be a mismatch against the majority of the defensive backs he played against.
In this sequence, Claypool is positioned as the outside receiver, across from a Virginia cornerback in off man coverage. When the ball is snapped, Claypool will release and execute a quick curl route. As the Virginia cornerback comes downhill to anticipate the pass, Claypool rotates on his opposite side, catching him off guard. As the ball is released, the Virginia cornerback is completely out of position and is relegated to grabbing Claypool in order avoid him getting more separation. The end result of this sequence is a holding penalty, which gave Notre Dame an automatic first down. Some key points to note.
Claypool planned his route by attacking his outside shoulder following his release.
Excellent feet and coordination made it possible to execute this double move.
Even though the ball was slightly under thrown, he adjusted and almost made the catch.
When you look at the Steelers current roster of receivers, there a common theme; each of them are effective in the slot, but lack the vertical speed needed to consistently stretch the field. Claypool is a different type of receiver, the type of receiver that Ben Roethlisberger should appreciate, as he tends to have a preference for taller targets. With these points noted, the addition of Claypool to their promising core of receivers is exactly what they need to take their offense to new heights.