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INDIANAPOLIS — For the Indianapolis Colts' receiving corps, size matters.
Of the 10 wide receivers currently on the team's roster, only two are listed shorter than six-feet tall. One of them is T.Y. Hilton, who was drafted back in 2012 and was already a proven Pro Bowler before the current front office arrived.
While the receivers that the Colts acquire all tend to have some size to them, the team is yet to see one rise up to pair with Hilton as a formidable 1-2 punch on the outside.
With that being said, this is a good year in the NFL Draft for a team to need a player like that.
One of the most intriguing big-receiver types is someone from up the road in South Bend at the University of Notre Dame, Chase Claypool.
At over 6-4 and 238 pounds, Claypool put on a clinic at the Scouting Combine in February, moving a frame of that size in such an impressive fashion that the NFL world hasn't seen at the receiver position since Calvin Johnson did it in 2007.
Since the collective information began being gathered in 2003, Claypool and Megatron are the only two receivers to be at least 6-4, 235 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.45 seconds. Don't count on Claypool staying in the high-230s range, though.
"I would say I went in kind of light at the Senior Bowl. I didn't really eat anything or drink anything before the weigh-in, so I was probably more 233 at that time. And I was super-hydrated for this weigh-in just because of the travel cross-country and obviously for things that we're going to do," Claypool told reporters at the Combine. "So I would say I weighed in light at the Senior Bowl and a little heavy here. But I'm kind of back down to my natural weight, which is closer to 230."
Claypool's official scores at the Combine were a 4.42-second 40, a 40-1/2" vertical jump, a 126" broad jump, and 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, all of which ranked in the top 10 among receivers at the Combine this year.
He's not just a workout warrior, however; he has the college production to go with it.
Claypool saw action immediately, playing in all 12 games as a true freshman in 2016. He started for the Irish for the last 2 1/2 seasons, starting a total of 33-of-50 games. In that time, he caught 150 passes for for 2,159 yards (14.4 avg) and 19 touchdowns.
His numbers increased each season, culminating in 66 catches for 1,037 yards (15.7 avg.) and 13 TD in 2019.
Claypool has traveled a unique road to the NFL like we've seen in many Notre Dame alums before him, as he was raised in British Columbia in Canada and was one of the top college recruits to ever come out of the area.
Now after four years in South Bend, he'll be on the move once more.
Before the Combine, Claypool was a strong performer throughout the week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl. He created some buzz for himself there, and then with his performance at the Combine, he may have very well locked himself into at least the second round of the draft.
"I don't think it's something that I did anything different (at the Senior Bowl). I think it's just people see me actually being able to do things against the top talent," Claypool said. "I knew that I could do those things; I just had to show that I could do it. And the more I come out to these events that are televised and have scouts, the more people will realize that maybe I shouldn't have been as slept on as I am."
For starters, Claypool's size as a wide receiver is obviously what makes him most attractive as a prospect, but hardly anyone on the outside knew he was going to be able to do what he did at the Combine. Frankly, his tape shows the size, but you have to be really looking at times to find flashes of the elite athleticism.
Now that NFL teams know what's all there to work with, whoever drafts him will proceed accordingly. There's been talk of him playing tight end, which seems unlikely now given the athleticism, but he could very well be moved around and used in a variety of ways to capitalize on certain matchups. In fact, Claypool said that no teams at that time had talked to him about being anything other than a receiver and special teamer.
"I really haven't put a lot of thought into that because I've been a receiver this whole time. But it's something that I think could add versatility to my game. But right now I'm just focused on being the best receiver I can be," Claypool said about potentially making the switch to tight end. "Like I said, I think I've proved I can be versatile in terms of inside, outside, No. 3 receiver, tight end. So I think I can be one of those rare guys who can line up at all positions on the field and do well, especially because I did that in my college career."
While he's not the first big receiver to be talked about as a tight end, Claypool doesn't take it personally, and rather sees is as an opportunity to show off his versatility and be an asset for a team.
"I'm not the only receiver in the league who's my weight or my size. I think I'll try to model my game after those guys," he said. "It's something that I'm open to playing different positions on the field. I think that gives me more value and allows me to get on the field maybe sooner than later."
Currently, he can already line up on either boundary as the X or Z receiver — although his size, toughness and speed screams "classic X receiver" — as well as in the slot.
He can run a nice variety of routes, but his execution of them could use some work. The cuts in his routes are more rounded than rigid, which makes it easier for cornerbacks to predict and then react. While Claypool is clearly a height/weight/speed guy, his short-area quickness appears to be lacking. That could indicate a lack of flexibility and some stiff hips. Claypool didn't run the three-cone or short shuttle drills at the Combine, which may have given us a little clarity there.
Hip flexibility was a big concern for receiver D.K. Metcalf coming out in the draft last year, but when he hit the NFL, he proved to be a stud anyways. Whether it will affect Claypool's stock in a similar fashion remains to be seen, but it may prove unwise to pass him up because of it.
With the ball in the air, Claypool adjusts his body well to the pass and can high-point it. He has 32-1/2" arms and 9-7/8" hands to help the cause, both of which are also above-average measurements. He also keeps his feet inside the boundaries well on sideline catches.
Between his size, length, foot placement and willingness to extend for the ball, his catch radius is huge.
While he's got elite size, Claypool could use that to his advantage more often. He often lets the pass into his body rather than plucking it out of the air with his arms and hands extended. With some more work there, he'll be a dominant, above-the-rim player with the ball in the air.
Before and after the catch, Claypool has more strength and toughness than the average receiver. He is difficult to bring down with the ball in his hands and wants to keep going and fighting for extra yards. If you get him in space with a full head of steam like on a slant route, then he'll show off the speed that he put on display at the Combine.
As you can imagine, Claypool is also a very willing and effective blocker. His size, length and toughness is capable of completely wiping out a defender from influencing the play.
Another area in which Claypool can excel initially in the NFL is somewhere that is rarely talked about: special teams.
"That's something I'm going to want to do at the next level — all four units if I can," Claypool said. "Any value that I can add I'm going to do it."
He enjoys playing on special teams and has been a core-four special teamer, playing on each kicking and coverage unit. As a true freshman with the Irish, Claypool led the team in special teams tackles with 11, including eight on the punt coverage team. How many times have we heard coaches say that a player did or did not suit up on gameday because of special teams?
Although Claypool does have room to grow when it comes to his technique as a route runner and learning how to use his physical gifts at an elite level, he has progressed throughout his collegiate career, and is still ascending.
"I think just physical pass-catching," Claypool answered when asked where he feels he's grown most. "I had not as many contested catches in my junior year, then a lot more in my senior year. So just showing that I'm an improved pass catcher. I think route-running improved, definitely. But I think I improved on the fine details of the game. Getting in and out of breaks faster. I don't think it's something that I'm bad at, but it's something I can get better at."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
As we mentioned in the opening, the Colts have yet to have that big-bodied, go-up-and-get-it type of receiver step forward and consistently play at an elite level. Obviously, Claypool has shown the potential to be that for a team.
For the Colts, the plan was for that guy to be Devin Funchess in 2019, who they signed as a free agent to a one-year deal. Unfortunately, he broke his collarbone during the first game of the regular season and was unable to return. Tight end Eric Ebron was a similar type of player to Funchess and Claypool, but like Funchess, Ebron has now moved on to a different team through free agency.
The Colts hold two selections in the second round of the upcoming draft, and it wouldn't be surprising if Claypool was one of those picks. There are reasons why he's become an incredibly popular pick for the Colts in mock drafts around the internet, and has already become a fan-favorite target.
In his time in college, Claypool developed into a leader and good locker room presence, and he's a sharp guy academically. He's an accomplished player with a high ceiling and a lot of room to still grow. The special teams prowess in his background and desire to keep playing it is a big cherry on top.
The Colts have just three receivers — Hilton, Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell — with any significant NFL in-game experience, and injuries limited to Campbell to only half of his rookie season last year.
The Colts need some depth, and they're likely going to get it in this draft.
OTHER 2020 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES
- K.J. Hill | Wide Receiver | Ohio State
- Jerry Jeudy | Wide Receiver | Alabama
- Derrick Brown | Defensive Tackle | Auburn
- K'Lavon Chaisson | Edge Defender | LSU
- CeeDee Lamb | Wide Receiver | Oklahoma
- Tristan Wirfs | Offensive Tackle | Iowa
- Neville Gallimore | Defensive Tackle | Oklahoma
- Jeff Gladney | Cornerback | TCU
- Brandon Aiyuk | Wide Receiver | Arizona State
- Jonah Jackson | Interior Offensive Lineman | Ohio State
- Trevon Diggs | Cornerback | Alabama
- Hunter Bryant | Tight End | Washington
- Julian Okwara | Edge Defender | Notre Dame
- Harrison Bryant | Tight End | Florida Atlantic