Following a trade from Pittsburgh last season, the former second-round pick enters the final year of his rookie contract needing a big season to set himself up for a payday.
"It's the biggest year of my life, and I understand that," Claypool said on Wednesday, via Courtney Cronin of ESPN. "If anybody thinks my work ethic isn't matching that, they're deeply mistaken."
Claypool started his career with back-to-back 860-plus-yard seasons in Pittsburgh, looking like the Steelers' next big-play weapon. But things got off to a wobbly start last year, with the Steelers shipping him to Chicago ahead of the trade deadline for a second-round pick (became No. 32 overall).
Things went from bad to worse with the Bears.
Claypool caught just 14 passes for 140 yards in seven games in Chicago with zero scores. He also missed two games due to a knee injury.
He missed most of the workouts this offseason due to injury and was briefly placed on the physically unable to perform list to open training camp before being removed a day later. Claypool insisted the knee injury wasn't the reason he was on the PUP list.
The 25-year-old has heard the chatter surrounding his durability and fit in the offense.
"I guess I get it," Claypool said on Wednesday. "Maybe people weren't happy with how I dealt with the offseason, but that's only the perception that was given to them and not the reality that's true. I remember almost blowing my knee out against the Packers and being done for the game and kind of pleading to be put back in, putting the knee brace back on, and went back in and tried to help my team win.
"So, if there's any questions on how much I'm willing to do to help this team win, there shouldn't be. You know? I think that I'm doing everything I can to be as healthy as possible and knowing in the game everyone gets injured."
The Bears brass and teammates, including quarterback Justin Fields, have insisted this offseason that Claypool is making strides in the offense.
"I think he's in a good spot," head coach Matt Eberflus said on Wednesday. "I have a lot of conversations with Clay, as we all do with our players. He feels like he's in a good spot. I think he's got a lot of confidence being the second year into it -- or going into the second part of it. I think he's in a real good spot."
Despite the injury issues keeping him off the field for offseason work, Claypool believes the months' worth of mental reps in the offense will help him improve on last year's struggles.
"I make cue cards," Claypool said when asked how he's studying the offense. "I think D.J. (Moore) giggled at me when he came in and saw all my cue cards that I had. But I would basically just test myself, then if I got one wrong I would put it to the side, go through the ones I got wrong and do that every day until I didn't get one wrong."
At this point, Claypool is a wild card for Chicago. The trade for Moore gave the Bears a legit No. 1 threat. Darnell Mooney slots back into the No. 2 role, where he should take advantage of coverages. The Bears also invested in tight ends Robert Tonyan (free agent) and Cole Kmet (big extension). If Claypool improves, negates the negative plays and becomes a field-stretching threat and red-zone playmaker, it will boost the offense. While the price to acquire a year and a half of the wideout was significant, the Bears didn't put all their eggs in the Claypool basket entering 2023.