The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of many NFL organizations who could be looking at a tight end in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. However, unlike the other franchises who are looking to add to their current quarterback depth chart, the Steelers possess the 24th overall pick.
Not really conducive to getting a top tier prospect, but after Kyle Pitts of Florida, there aren’t many top tier prospects.
There is the chance the Steelers choose to take a tight end, but when they would have to take a tight end is certainly debatable. There are some who consider the talent after Pitts to be end of Round 1, or Day 2 at the earliest.
One prospect which has come to my attention recently, mainly after the Steelers showing interest at the Penn State Pro Day, is Pat Freiermuth. While most fans point to running back and offensive line as pressing needs, the Steelers’ depth at tight end certainly leaves a lot to be desired, making tight end a viable option throughout the draft. Not necessarily in the first round, but potentially on Day 2.
I did some digging on Freiermuth, and put together a brief synopsis of the kind of player he is, and will be when becoming a professional. Below you’ll see draft profile breakdowns, film room breakdowns and game film for you to enjoy.
Don’t listen to me, or anyone else, form your own opinion on Freiermuth. I plan on doing this for other prospects as the draft approaches. If there is a specific player you’d like to see covered, simply let me know and I’ll be glad to put it together!
Let us know your thoughts on Freiermuth in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.
Pat Freiermuth projects as an impact receiving tight end at the professional level. Freiermuth has a prototypical build for the tight end position and ample ceiling as a blocker to continue to develop into a quality asset with his hand in the dirt in the run game. But today’s NFL is ultimately rooted in the passing game and tight ends are the new-age mismatch weapons that put defensive play-callers in a bind. Freiermuth can be that caliber of a receiver thanks to his blend of size, hands, route-running, and physicality in the secondary. Freiermuth burst onto the scene as a freshman at Penn State and incrementally became a bigger piece of the passing offense, culminating in 2020 with several high-production contests before a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely and forced him to undergo surgery. The medicals here will be something NFL teams must vet, as well as exploring his lack of development as a blocker. As Freiermuth has developed his body and added muscle during his time at Penn State, the assumption was that he would continue to progress as an in-line blocker; but we never really saw that leap in that chapter of his game, even once he returned for the 2020 season. But Freiermuth’s value to an NFL franchise won’t be rooted in run blocking; it will be in his versatility as a receiver and the mismatches he’ll win in coverage. That is where the value for tight ends lies anyway, so the deductions on Freiermuth’s pre-draft evaluation for blocking are only marginal. He still feels destined to be an impact player in an NFL offense.
Ideal Role: Hybrid role with a primary focus on F alignment (early in career).
Scheme Fit: 12-personnel heavy offensive system, spread concepts to isolate in space.
- Position: Tight End
- School: Penn State
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 258 pounds
Positives: Nice-sized tight end who shows a complete game at the position. Natural receiver who plays heads-up football and shows great awareness. Sells routes, extends his hands, and snatches the ball away from his frame with strong hands. Displays focus as well as concentration, consistently finds the soft spot in the defense, and takes a big hit yet holds on to the throw. Easily adjusts to the errant pass and makes the reception in stride.
Often lines up in the slot, fluidly releases into pass routes, and gets downfield. Locates the pass in the air and makes the difficult catch in a crowd with multiple defenders draped on him. Bends his knees, plays with leverage, and gives effort blocking even if the play is away from him.
Negatives: Possesses average blocking strength and really doesn’t get much movement. Average run-after-the-catch skill. Doesn’t show the great burst or play speed for a top-rated tight end.
Analysis: Freiermuth was a consistent tight end for Penn State the past three seasons and has an NFL-ready game. He must improve his strength as a blocker and may never be a great downfield threat at the position, but Freiermuth is reliable in all aspects of his position.
A four-star tight end prospect out of high school who committed to Penn State over Ohio State and Notre Dame, Pat Freiermuth is the latest in a long line of Penn State tight ends to hit the NFL. He has received lofty praise throughout his high school and college careers too, even earning the moniker of ‘Baby Gronk’ thanks to his No. 87 jersey and play style. He was also a two-time team captain for the Nittany Lions.
Freiermuth’s true freshman season saw him put up big numbers as Penn State’s top red zone threat. He recorded 26 receptions for 368 yards (14.2 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns, terrific figures for someone who was in high school a year prior. He started nine games and his eight scores were the most by a Penn State freshman since 2005.
In his sophomore season, Freiermuth saw his numbers take a jump in terms of volume as he was voted a team captain for the first time. He caught 43 passes for 507 yards (11.8 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. His big-play ability may have taken a step back to a degree, but his production stayed stead as he took on an even bigger role in the passing game. He was seventh in the Big Ten and fourth among FBS tight ends with seven touchdown receptions.
Once again a captain in 2020, Freiermuth played just four games as a junior due to a shoulder injury. He saw a large volume of targets in those four games, catching 23 passes for 310 yards (13.5 average) and one touchdown. He ended his Penn State career with 92 catches for 1,185 yards (12.9 average) and 16 touchdowns, which set a Penn State record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end.
2019 statistics: 43 catches for 507 yards (11.8 average) and seven touchdowns.
What I liked: Freiermuth has an ideal build for the position. He has a big, thick frame and plays to that size in the passing game. Penn State moves him around the formation — he collects snaps with his hand on the ground, flexed in the slot and split out wide. He’s at his best working in the middle of the field. He uses an arch release to avoid getting jammed at the line of scrimmage and presents a big target to the quarterback down the seam.
Freiermuth isn’t an explosive route runner, but he has subtle quickness at the top of his route to create some separation. He also has a good feel for working and settling in zones. He has outstanding hands. He takes some big shots at the catch point and still manages to hold on to the ball. He has a big catch radius and his concentration is superb.
Freiermuth’s also very effective after the catch because of his physicality. He pinballs off tacklers. He aggressively attacks safeties and lowers his shoulder to power through tackles when he has a runway. He’s effective as a back-side run blocker, too. He takes proper angles and shields off defenders long enough to get the job done.
Where he needs to improve: Freiermuth needs to improve in the run game. He survives on the back side, but he really struggles as a front-side run blocker. He gathers and pauses on contact instead of running his feet and creating some knock-back on his defender. This allows opponents to quickly shed his block and get involved in the play.
He’s not as explosive as former Penn State TE Mike Gesicki, a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2018. If you’re looking for that type of speed or athleticism from Freiermuth, I think you’ll be disappointed. I haven’t watched him play in person, but I am curious to see if he could gain some extra juice by losing a little bit of weight. That isn’t a big deal, though. He can still have a long, successful pro career with the tools he possesses.
Biggest takeaway: I’ll use this analogy since baseball season is underway: Good tight ends are like good closers. They are reliable! Freiermuth doesn’t come with all of the bells and whistles of some of the other top tight ends we’ve seen over the last handful of NFL drafts. However, when it’s third-and-6, you can count on him walling off his defender, attacking the ball and holding on through contact. That’s why his offensive coordinator and quarterback are going to love him at the next level.
He reminds me of: Freiermuth reminds me of Hunter Henry coming out of Arkansas. Both guys were good athletes, but they weren’t ultra-twitched up and explosive. Henry was better as a run blocker, but they share similar route-running savvy and football instincts. They have strong, reliable hands and they are outstanding options on third down and in the red zone. Henry has emerged as one of the premier TEs in the AFC. He received the franchise tag from the Chargers this offseason and is due to collect a big payday next offseason. Freiermuth has some work to do to get to that level, but it is attainable.