Not only was Chase Claypool’s first catch in the NFL highlight-reel worthy, it was unlikely to be caught in the first place.
According to Next Gen Stats, the catch had a completion probability of only 13.8 per cent. In fact, it was one of the most improbable completions in Week 1. But his previous experience with the route prepared the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver for that moment.
“That was like my No. 1 route in high school,” Claypool said in a media availability on Thursday. “In college, we worked on it every day. At some point it just becomes natural and you just got to go make a play on the ball.”
The Abbotsford, B.C., native has had a fantastic start to his NFL career. In the first two weeks of his rookie year, Claypool has five receptions for 127 yards and eight rushing yards.
His first touchdown in the league – an impressive 84-yard reception against the Denver Broncos – broke a record for the longest scrimmage touchdown by a Canadian-born player in NFL history. But the 22-year-old isn't really focused on the record books right now.
“It’s going to be definitely very cool at the end of the year or end of my career to look back on those things,” Claypool said. “But it is cool that I can do something like that pretty early.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 20, 2020
With only a handful of active Canadians in the NFL, Claypool is starting to build quite the fan base from football fans across the country.
“It’s good to see the support from so many people,” he said. “It’s definitely hard to respond to everyone but I do see the messages and I do appreciate it.”
His current nickname also gives a nod to Canada. After his remarkable run at the NFL combine, Claypool was nicknamed “Mapletron” because his run measurables were similar to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
With the nickname quickly becoming a fan favourite, Claypool released some Mapletron merchandise that includes T-shirts, phone cases and even face masks.
“I thought [Mapletron] was pretty clever, but when I ran it through my teammates, they thought it was kind of funny, so I don’t really want to pigeonhole myself into the nickname,” he said. “That’s a fan-given nickname so we’ll see if I ride with it.”
While his phone continues to buzz from fans on social media, Claypool believes all the hype around his NFL debut won’t truly sink in until he’s back home in British Columbia.
“I look forward to going back to Canada and working out with some of the local high school kids and stuff like that. So maybe when I do that, I’ll be able to kind of see that impact that I have back home.”
His hometown is certainly at the forefront of his mind this season. Claypool said he is dedicating his rookie year to his friend and former high school teammate Samwel Uko, who died earlier this year.
Ahead of his NFL debut, Claypool wrote his friend’s name on his wrist tape and said he’s looking into the possibility of getting Uko’s name on his helmet.
“He was … one of the best players that I’ve ever seen play,” Claypool said. “When I heard about that, it was a tough situation because I wasn’t able to go home and go to his funeral just ‘cause with everything going on. So I just wanted a way to kind of dedicate this season to him.”
Before being drafted by the Steelers in the second round of this year’s NFL draft, Claypool certainly made an impact in college at the University of Notre Dame.
During his 2019 season, he led the Irish with 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s ranked seventh at Notre Dame in career receptions with 150, totalling for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“The way he really impressed us was with his competitiveness,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said after the NFL draft in April. “There’s a lot of guys that can run and catch, but we loved the way we competed.
“He’s got an incredible drive and a competitiveness in him that separates him among many.”
Now heading into Week 3, Claypool is working to show consistency with his game moving forward.
“The fast start was great, but you want to kind of keep that throughout the season,” Claypool said. “I think if I can do that, I can do some really big things for the team.”
Although he’s not starting for the Steelers yet, Claypool said he’s in no rush to get in there. The six-foot-four wide receiver is willing to contribute to his team in any way he can, including on special teams.
“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,” he said. “My goal through that is to make the Pro Bowl through special teams -- obviously hopefully through offence, but special teams would be nice.”
Until then, Claypool is happy to be getting a good amount of looks during games and the opportunity to keep getting his feet wet in the NFL.
“It’s a very cool experience that I’m trying to take in and enjoy every day. I’m definitely very grateful.”