No first-round draft pick? No problem for the Steelers.
The Steelers were without a first-round choice in the NFL draft this year for the first time since 1967. When they finally drafted, they took a guy who would help them go 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
The rookie caught seven passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown. He became the first rookie to score four touchdowns in a game since Reggie Bush in 2006.
Claypool’s 2-yard run on an end around gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. His 32-yard TD catch from Ben Roethlisberger made it 14-7 in the second quarter. His 5-yard TD catch on a screen made it 24-14 in the third quarter.
That lead grew to 31-14 before the Steelers allowed the Eagles (1-3-1) to pull to within 31-29 in the fourth quarter. Jake Elliott barely missed a 57-yard field goal that would have given the Eagles the lead with 3:18 left in the game.
It looked like the Eagles would get another chance — and plenty of time — to complete the comeback when the Steelers faced third-and-8 from the Eagles’ 35 with 2:59 left. But Claypool came to the rescue when he got open down the middle, hauled in Roethlisberger’s pass and took it to the house to make it a two-possession game.
Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson clinched the victory with his second interception of the game on the Eagles’ final possession.
It’s no revelation that the Steelers know a little something about drafting wide receivers. Mike Wallace in the third round in 2009. Emmanuel Sanders in the third round in 2010. Antonio Brown in the sixth round in 2010. Martavis Bryant in the fourth round in 2014.
They’ve taken that success to another level, or at least a more consistent level, in recent years.
There have been no such misses since 2017, however. Every receiver the Steelers have drafted over the last four years has at least 13 receptions and 117 receiving yards through four games in 2020.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, a second-rounder in 2017, has caught 21 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns. James Washington, a second-rounder in 2018, has 13 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Diontae Johnson, a 2019 third-rounder who has sat out most of the last two games with injuries, has 15 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Claypool has 13 catches for 261 yards and four TDs to go with his rushing touchdown after Sunday’s performance.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Claypool earned a mention in the same breath as three-time All-Pro Calvin Johnson when he joined him as the only player at least 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds to run a sub-4.45 40-yard dash.
Can Claypool accomplish what Calvin Johnson did? It’s too early to tell.
There is evidence, however, that Claypool can be the Steelers’ go-to guy in tight spots the way that Brown was.
Aside from his final touchdown Sunday, Claypool has made plays that allowed Roethlisberger to take a knee and run out the clock in two Steelers wins.
In Week 1, Claypool gained eight yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 37 with 55 seconds left to secure the Steelers’ 26-16 win.
Although he nearly fumbled the ball out of bounds for a touchback, Claypool caught a 24-yard pass on third down just before the two-minute warning to clinch the Steelers’ 28-21 Week 3 win over the Texans.
Claypool became the fourth player this season to lead the Steelers in both receptions and receiving yards. Smith-Schuster did it in Week 1, Diontae Johnson did it in Week 2 and tight end Eric Ebron did it in Week 3.
On the ground, Ray-Ray McCloud became the third player to lead the Steelers in rushing yards this season. Of his 63 yards, 58 came on one play and helped set up Claypool’s third-quarter touchdown.
With that kind of depth on offense, the Steelers might not need stars like Brown or Le’Veon Bell. They certainly don’t need the headaches that came with the territory.
Defensively, the Steelers are tied for the league league with 20 sacks and tied for second with six interceptions. They’re also second with 3.3 yards allowed per carry.
Those numbers are nice, but this defense needs to work on putting opponents away. Not only was Sunday’s 17-point lead cut down to two, but in Week 2 the Broncos were 15 yards away from completing a 12-point comeback before the Steelers locked up the 26-21 win.
An elite defense shouldn’t be allowing 29 points. That said, the aforementioned 1979 Steelers allowed 30 or more points four times on their way to winning Super Bowl XIV, and this was during an era in which quarterbacks didn’t have the Secret Service protection that they do today.
Until their defense can put four good quarters together, the Steelers have a balanced offense that can pick up the slack as long as those players can share the spotlight.
Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.