Chase Claypool can prove his doubters wrong this year
Many expected Chase Claypool to have a significant impact on the Bears' offense after they coughed up a second-round selection for the third-year pass-catcher ahead of last season's trade deadline. Nevertheless, his first (half) year in the Windy City didn't exactly go as planned, as he fell well short of those somewhat lofty expectations.
Claypool struggled to build a rapport with Justin Fields (and backup quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Nathan Peterman, who each started a game in relief of Fields) and finished with just 140 yards through the air over the season's final seven games. His detractors believed he was not worthy of the pick Chicago gave up to acquire him (which turned out to be the 32nd overall selection), and the noise only got louder as the losses began piling up.
Furthermore, many were ready to throw in the towel on the Claypool experiment when it was announced that he was in Paris for a fashion show last month instead of training for the season. However, those concerns were quieted when word broke that he was actually there for a team-sponsored youth camp. He continued to put them to rest when he showed up to training camp in shape last week, and all reports from camp indicate that he has looked like one of the team's best players thus far.
While Claypool's tenure in the Windy City might have gotten off to a rocky start, he will have a chance to change the narrative this season. The fourth-year pass-catcher is entering a contract year and will be eager to prove the Bears right for their choice to trade for him.
He will benefit from the arrival of D.J. Moore in the offseason, as the former Panthers pass-catcher is the exact type of alpha number one receiver that defenses will have to commit to slowing down. More attention to D.J. should open things up for the Bears' other pass-catchers, including Claypool and Darnell Mooney, who are slated to lock down the other starting receiver spots.
Claypool has been a polarizing player as soon as he entered the league. His presence on social media and extreme confidence in his abilities has led many to funnel him into the 'diva receiver' category. He has been an easy player to root against for many fans, but his detractors haven't exactly been fair in their criticism.
He has not let his social media usage become a distraction like his previous teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster, who drew the ire of his opponents for dancing on their logo before games. Likewise, he also got chastised for getting fired up on the sideline during an embarrassing 41-10 loss to the Lions last season. However, his anger wasn't directed at any particular teammate or coach (unlike his other former teammate Antonio Brown). He was frustrated with the team being down in a divisional game, and it was a sign that he's passionate about the team.
Claypool played four years for Notre Dame, one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. If there were rumblings of him being a diva there, they would have certainly made headlines. However, that is not nearly the case. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who spoke ill of him during his time with the Irish. As such, it feels safe to say that he is at least partially victimized by following in the shoes of former walking headaches in the Steel City.
All things considered, Claypool's play on the field is what matters most. If he performs well when the lights come on, all previous offseason nonsense will be forgotten. Likewise, his sub-par performances throughout his first season in Chicago will be forgiven.
The 25-year-old has gotten written off by many, but he is still only one year removed from two-straight 850-yard seasons to begin his career and was formerly one of the league's most promising young pass-catchers. He still possesses a lethal combination of size and speed (one that rivals anyone in the NFL, in fact). He still has immense potential. Most importantly, he is still in a position to prove his doubters wrong.