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Steelers get help for Big Ben from Irish

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Chase Claypool had no idea he was on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ radar. Funny, the thing that struck offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner the most when he met the wide receiver at the NFL combine is how you couldn’t miss him.

“He has an air about him,” Fichtner said.

Size and speed too. So much that the Steelers selected the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool in the second round of the draft on Friday night, hoping his arrival will give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger another red-zone target in his return from right-elbow surgery.

Claypool caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns last year for Notre Dame. He joins an offense in search of another playmaker following an eventful 2019 when the Steelers finished 8-8 after losing Roethlisberger to a for the season at halftime of Week 2.

“His production this past season was off the charts,” Fichtner said. “It’s been growing every season. He’s one of those guys that scores the ball. There’s ways to do it and he’s a guy that finds a way to score a touchdown in just about every game he plays.”

Pittsburgh’s passing game struggled in 2019 after Roethlisberger went down at halftime of Week 2. The Steelers finished 31st in yards passing while bouncing between Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges a year after Roethlisberger won the NFL passing title.

Roethlisberger is on schedule to play in 2020 and Claypool is the second big body to join the passing game in the last month. The Steelers signed tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year deal in free agency. Ebron can create mismatches on the inside. Claypool — who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash — can do the same on the outside.

Claypool, who was raised in British Columbia, Canada, said he models himself after a handful of players, including Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster texted Claypool shortly after Pittsburgh selected him with the 49th overall pick and Roethlisberger made it a point to call the rookie to welcome him to town. Well, sort of.

The COVID-19 pandemic means Claypool has no idea how long he will have to wait to get to Pittsburgh. He’s recently been working out with former NFL wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh and isn’t concerned about the unusual “virtual” offseason program the league installed during the lockdown.

If anything, it just means he’ll get more one-on-one instruction from Fichtner and first-year wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard.

Claypool dabbled with basketball growing up but always returned to football. A hype tape he put on Facebook helped him land a scholarship at Notre Dame and after a slow start to his career he finished with a flourish. He caught 116 passes for 1,676 yards over his final two seasons with the Fighting Irish, a breakout Claypool was confident would come.

“You could say I’m a late bloomer in the sense that I never really got my time to shine until my junior and senior year,” Claypool said. “I always thought I had the skill set. It just improved year after year.”

With the 102nd pick in the second round, the Steelers selected LB Alex Highsmith from Charlotte, who holds the Conference USA record for 14 sacks in a season.

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