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The Mapletron phenomenon is catching on quickly — in Canada and around the NFL.
Even if Chase Claypool isn’t entirely sold yet on that nickname.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ fast, big-bodied, rookie wide receiver from Abbotsford, B.C., has generated plenty of buzz across the continent after just two pro football games.
There was his acrobatic sideline catch deemed the most difficult of the 747 snared across in the league in Week 1. Then there was his 84-yard long-bomb score this past Sunday, which set a record for longest NFL touchdown from scrimmage ever scored by a Canadian.
Not bad, seven days into his pro playing career.
On a video conference call with a group of Canadian reporters Thursday afternoon, from Steelers headquarters along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool discussed his newfound fame both in his home and native land and south of the border, as well as his instant, if measured, impact on the Steelers offence.
In true Canadian fashion, the 22-year-old constantly evinced more than an NFLer’s usual allotment of humility, naturally, but his ample, quiet self-confidence also was palpable — as his Steelers teammates and coaches have noted, and appreciated.
The thrill for a kid from Canada just to have made it this far in football has not worn off in the least, he said.
“It’s definitely very cool. There are moments during the day when I just look around and I enjoy it.”
In Pittsburgh’s Week 1 victory at the New York Giants, Claypool was targeted twice by future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They connected both times, for 39 yards — including that stunning deep lob, as Claypool angled toward the right sideline. Claypool had to spin his body around back to Big Ben, then as he continued to back-pedal he leapt backward, high over and beyond veteran Giants cornerback James Bradberry, and somehow not only hauled in the ball while twisting and falling out of bounds onto his back, but barely got both feet down in bounds to make it a legal catch, for a 28-yard gain.
NFL Next Gen Stats calculated it to be the most difficult reception made around the league in Week 1, with just a 13.8% chance of success.
It was the Abbotsford Senior Secondary School grad’s first pro reception, and on Monday Night Football to boot. That set social media ablaze before his career was one quarter old.
And it was an important grab too, on an early 3 rd -and-9 play from the Pittsburgh 33-yard line, with the Giants up 3-0. The Steelers scored a field goal on that drive, and eventually won 26-16.
Such “jump balls” became Claypool’s signature impact route with the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish over the past two years, but his acumen in that regard began even earlier.
“My No. 1 route in high school was a go ball, so I got a lot of exposure there,” Claypool said. “And in college we worked on it every day, and then at some point it just becomes natural. You’ve just got to go and make a play on the ball.”
In New York, Claypool took the field for just 19 of Pittsburgh’s 64 offensive plays, but over half of the pass plays.
In Pittsburgh’s home-field Week 2 win this past Sunday, over the Denver Broncos, Claypool was targeted three times by Roethlisberger and once again caught them all, for 88 yards — including the dazzling 84-yard score. It gave the Steelers at 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter of a 26-21 victory. Claypool was on the field for 24 of Pittsburgh’s 64 offensive snaps, and again just over half of the pass plays.
Claypool said he’s not disappointed at all that Steelers coaches are slowly working him into the offence.
“I’m honestly in no rush to get in there (more). I’m not going to be frustrated or anything by a lack of playing time … I’m good where I’m at.”
Earlier this week the 38-year-old Roethlisberger — now in his 17 th NFL season — said Claypool is “doing really well considering he’s a rookie with no preseason. We got to see that early on, that he was going to have that success — or we believed he was.
“Even when we were throwing at Robert Morris (University in Pittsburgh) in the off-season, you could just see that he was a guy who already knew what he was doing, and already had an understanding of the offence. I’ve said it numerous times — he’ll make a mistake but he won’t do it two times.”
Asked Thursday to provide examples of that, Claypool cited precise ball placement and timing on certain routes.
“Sometimes I was used to looking later,” he said. “And (Roethlisberger) wants me to look sooner, because that’s just when things open up for him. Just little things. Like how he throws the ball, when he throws the ball. And then that affects me.”
Pittsburgh did not have a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft but made Claypool their first selection a night later, in Round 2, 49 th overall. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin this week said Claypool stood out both to him and Steelers GM Kevin Colbert at Senior Bowl practices back in January — one way in particular.
“We were just really impressed with him as a football player, no matter what was going on there — whether it was special-teams drills … or blocking drills. He showed the type of football character that we covet: A guy that is a competitor in all circumstances.”
This Sunday the Steelers can improve to 3-0 with a home-field defeat of the winless Houston Texans.
Through family and friends back home, Claypool said he has somewhat of a sense of how much buzz there is about him back in Canada.
“I see some stuff on social media (but) until I see some of the kids or some of the people there, it won’t totally sink in. I look forward to going back to Canada and working out with some of the local high school kids, and stuff like that.
“It’s good though to get the support from so many people. I don’t mind if it’s someone I’ve never even met and they reach out to say congratulations. I appreciate that.”
Claypool said he’s fine with the Mapletron moniker for now. It’s a Canadian-ization, if you will, of the nickname given to now-retired Detroit Lions wideout Calvin (Megatron) Johnson — because of their similar towering size and build combined with elite speed.
“I don’t really want to pigeon-hole myself on the nickname Mapletron,” Claypool said. “Maybe I’ll develop my own unique kind of nickname.
“I’m just a rookie, so I have to make a name for myself before that happens. But we’ll see. That’s a fan-given nickname … We’ll stick with Mapletron for now, but I’ll be more neutral in that sense.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020