Updated: Aug 2, 2021
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The Steelers have one of the most talented wide receiving corps in the league. They're also one of the youngest with Dionate Johnson being the oldest of the group at the age of 25.
Last year, the Steelers' wide receivers had 30 receiving touchdowns, which led the NFL. They had 297 receptions and 3,096 receiving yards by receivers 24 years old or younger, which was the youngest corps in the league.
The Pro Football Focus Fantasy Football Twitter account yesterday asked who is the Steelers WR1 and listed their projected receiving yards for the wide receivers. They had Chase Claypool leading the group with 986 receiving yards followed by Diontae Johnson with 900 yards and JuJu Smith-Schuster with 809 yards.
The Steelers were the only team last year to have four different receivers record at least 50 receptions for over 500 yards and five touchdowns. So, it's a deep group and Ben Roethlisberger spreads the ball around. They also added pass-catching running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth to the skill position group through the draft this year.
Claypool finished the 2020 regular season with 62 receptions for 873 yards (14.1 average) and nine touchdowns. He had two rushing touchdowns as well. Claypool tied Franco Harris (1972) and Louis Lipps (1984) for the most touchdowns in franchise history during a rookie season with 11. Claypool's 62 receptions on the season were also the most ever for a Steelers rookie and his nine receiving touchdowns last year were the most among all rookies.
Last month, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk said that he thinks Claypool will make a leap in 2021 in his second-year campaign.
"You can argue he's already declared himself, but the stats at the end of the day weren't what they could have been or what they could be this year, especially if his team establishes the run and maybe they do a little bit of play-action," Florio said of Claypool. "They didn't play him as much as they could have (last year). I remember at one point, I went through the gamebooks and I looked at his playing time, and I'm like 'why is this guy only on the field 30 percent of the time? He should be out there all the freaking time.' I think he'll be out there more this year. I think they'll have the ball arching through the air more to him more often. They understand what he could do. I think he makes a leap this year."
Diontae Johnson is by far the Steelers best route-runner and led the team in targets last year with 144. So, he certainly could breakout as well in his third-year. His biggest issue last season was putting the ball on the ground, as he led the league in drops with 14. Smith-Schuster has stated all offseason that he wants to play more on the outside this year instead of the slot where he predominantly played last year under former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Smith-Schuster averaged 8.6 yards per catch in 2020, which ranked 126th in the league. It's expected that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada will utilize Smith-Schuster better this year, which is another contract year for the USC product after he bet on himself and re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year deal this offseason.
If Smith-Schuster can get back to how he played in 2018, he could lead the Steelers in receiving, but the best bet would be Claypool or Johnson leading the team in that department.