Canadian rookie Chase Claypool captivating NFL audiences with playmaking ability

It’s been an impressive start to an NFL career for Canadian Chase Claypool.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie receiver showed his athleticism in his NFL debut, a 26-16 win over the New York Giants on Sept. 14. Claypool stretched out to grab a high third-down pass from Ben Roethlisberger between two defenders, then got both feet down for a 28-yard completion in his first-ever NFL catch.

On Sunday, the 22-year-old native of Abbotsford, B.C., had an 84-yard TD grab — the longest touchdown from scrimmage in NFL history by a Canadian-born player — in Pittsburgh’s 26-21 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Heady stuff, considering Claypool isn’t yet an NFL starter. But the six-foot-four, 238-pound Claypool is more than good with Pittsburgh’s patient approach.

“I think it’s similar to my freshman year in college, only I’m a lot more prepared and ready to go in whenever,” Claypool told reporters Thursday during a videoconference. “Obviously I’d love to start this game but they’re giving me a good amount of looks and it’s a super-long season, we still have 14 games left and playoffs.

“Once they feel it’s right for me to get in there then they’ll put me in there . . . I’m in no rush. I’m not going to be frustrated or anything by the lack of playing time or the thought of me playing more. I’m good where I’m at.”

The Steelers host the Houston Texans (0-2) on Sunday.

Pittsburgh selected Claypool in the second round, No. 49 overall, in this year’s NFL draft. Claypool was Notre Dame’s leading receiver in 2019 with 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 TDs and finished with 150 career receptions for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns.

But Claypool really served notice at the NFL combine with a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds. He joined former Detroit Lions star Calvin (Megatron) Johnson as the only receivers measuring six foot four and 235 pounds or bigger to run under 4.45 seconds at the combine.

And it’s that comparison that led fans to give Claypool his current nickname of Mapletron. It’s a moniker Claypool is good with, at least for now.

“Maybe I’ll try and develop my own unique nickname,” he said.

Willing to learn

Claypool has quickly endeared himself to the Steelers with his ability and work ethic. Earlier this month, Pittsburgh receiver Juju Smith-Shuster gushed about his Canadian teammate.

“He’s a great kid, he’s awesome,” Smith-Shuster told The Canadian Press. “He’s a kid who’s willing to learn, to be coached and he goes out there and does what he’s supposed to do.

“He does a lot for our team.”

It’s praise that certainly resonates with Claypool.

“It plays a really big part in my confidence,” he said. “I think it’s super important that you have the respect of your peers.

“I’m still trying to gain more respect, there’s always respect to be gained. I think it’s a good start.”

Claypool stands tied with James Washington for third among Pittsburgh receivers with five catches for 127 yards (25.4-yard average) and the TD. He also had a eight-yard run against the Giants.

Claypool is also seeing duty on Pittsburgh’s special teams, something he also did while at Notre Dame.

“As a rookie you’re expected to contribute on special teams just like I was contributing on special teams in college,” he said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for me to make some plays when I’m not on offence and kind of get my name out there even further.

“My goal through that is to make the Pro Bowl through special teams. Obviously [also] hopefully through offence but special teams would be nice.”

It’s obvious Claypool is making a seamless transition from the NCAA to the NFL. In fact, he said making the jump from high school to life at Notre Dame was more challenging.

“That first year as a freshman in college . . . if I were to go in and make some plays that would be cool but as a freshman I wasn’t ready to fully start,” Claypool said. “Now I think I’m ready to fully start, I’m very comfortable with the playbook and making plays so it’s that comfortability and confidence I have now as opposed to when I was a freshman.”

With a healthy Roethlisberger in tow, the Steelers have resumed their winning ways. The 38-year-old quarterback missed most of last season with an elbow injury and the Steelers (8-8) failed to make the NFL playoffs.

Chasing a championship

Although Claypool said there’s no playoff talk with the Steelers after two opening wins, expectations for the team are crystal clear.

“We just take it week by week,” he said. “But at the start of the season [head] coach [Mike] Tomlin laid down his expectations and we’re going for a world championship.

“He set the bar.”

Pittsburgh has won six Super Bowls. Its last came Feb. 1, 2009 with a 27-23 decision over the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa, Fla.

Despite the eventful start to his football career, Claypool is taking the time to fully appreciate his new life as a professional athlete.

“There are moments in the day when I just look around and enjoy it because I hear about some of the things people are going through and it makes me more grateful for what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s a very cool experience that I’m trying to take in and enjoy every day.”

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