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Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth Fantasy Outlook After JuJu Smith-Schuster Injury

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorSeptember 26, 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) celebrates after a catch during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
Matt Durisko/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered a rib injury during his team's Week 3 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals and was ruled out for the remainder of the game, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

Hopefully, the talented Smith-Schuster returns to the field 100 percent healthy as soon as possible. As of now, it's unknown whether he will miss any time.

If he is forced to the sidelines, Pittsburgh will rely on the remainder of its pass-catching talent, including wideout Chase Claypool and tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Here's a look at Claypool and Freiermuth from a fantasy perspective if the Steelers are forced to play without Smith-Schuster.

                   

Chase Claypool 

Claypool is the clear No. 1 wideout with Diontae Johnson currently sidelined with a knee injury suffered in Week 2. It's unknown how long Johnson will be out, but Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network previously reported Johnson won't be out long-term.

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Still, Claypool is the most talented pass-catcher on this team, and he appears to be a future star in black and yellow.

This season, Claypool had six catches for 115 yards through two games. His big-play ability led to him getting 19.2 yards per catch. He also had 10 targets through three quarters against the Bengals this week, so it's clear quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is looking his way more often on this shorthanded pass-catching crew.

Claypool's 2021 season only brings up a small sample size, but he had some early-season highlights in 2020, namely an 84-yard touchdown catch against the Denver Broncos in Week 2:

Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers

84. Yards. To. The. House. @_BigBen7 | @ChaseClaypool 📺 #DENvsPIT on CBS https://t.co/joAKC0p7cz

That followed a praiseworthy Week 1 performance from Pro Football Focus:

PFF @PFF

Chase Claypool: the highest-graded rookie in W1 🏆 https://t.co/NnARl3Kec7

He then dropped an unbelievable fantasy bomb by scoring four touchdowns in a breakout performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5:

PFF Fantasy Football @PFF_Fantasy

Chase Claypool vs. Eagles: 🔸 11 targets 🔸 7 catches 🔸 110 receiving yards 🔸 4 TDs 🔸 42.6 PPR points https://t.co/QjQMzS659r

The ex-Notre Dame star was a bit boom-or-bust, though. On the downside, he notably averaged just 3.6 catches for 42.6 yards from Weeks 12-16. Claypool ended the regular season on a high note with a five-reception, 101-yard, one-touchdown game against the Cleveland Browns.

Ultimately, without Smith-Schuster, Claypool should see more targets, and his big-play ability could lead to him doing serious fantasy damage if the apex of his 2020 output is any indication. He's a clear must-start option as a second wide receiver in season-long fantasy every week if Johnson and/or Smith-Schuster are out. In daily, he's a great option as well.

    

Pat Freiermuth

Through three games, it's clear that rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth has usurped Eric Ebron as the top pass-catching option at their position.

Ebron had just one catch for 19 yards on four targets through two weeks. Per Pro Football Reference, Ebron played on 47 percent of the snaps in Week 1 and 43 percent of the snaps in Week 2.

Week 3 saw Ebron get just one catchless target through three quarters.

Per Pro Football Reference, Freiermuth hasn't played too much more than Ebron (50 percent of snaps in Week 1, 59 percent of snaps in Week 2), but he's gotten more looks and been more productive.

He caught all five of his targets for 60 yards through two weeks and scored his first touchdown in Week 3 during a three-catch, 22-yard day.

Despite the encouraging outlook for Freiermuth, he's still not a clear-cut starter at tight end. The Steelers still heavily feature Najee Harris on the ground and in the pass game, and Claypool is the go-to guy at wideout. Freiermuth will get his looks, but there isn't any indication he'll be a target hog.

Still, he should be picked up as a backup tight end if he's on the waiver wire. In deeper leagues, he's a borderline start option too.

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