clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021 NFL Draft: Breaking down what Pat Freiermuth bring to the Steelers

Looking at the Steelers 2nd round pick’s college film.

Maryland v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

In the 2nd Round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Pat Freiermuth, tight end from Penn State. Tight end was a need for the Steelers, as they had Eric Ebron, but beyond Ebron they had some good depth pieces but nothing significant. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada typically uses multiple tight ends in his offense, so adding a second good tight end to the roster was a priority.

What Pat Freiermuth brings to that offense is the focus of this film room.

Pat Freiermuth (#87) is the receiver to the bottom of the screen at the start of the clip.

One of the problems with television broadcasts is sometimes they miss the start of a play. But you can see why Freiermuth was called “Baby Gronk” by many Penn State fans. With the ball Freiermuth turned into a powerful runner who frequently took multiple defenders to stop.

On the replay they showed the start of the route, and you can see Freiermuth puts a good move on the defender to get open on this slant.

Freiermuth showed plays like this that draw comparisons to some of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL, and he is frequently cited as having an incredibly high ceiling because of plays like this.

Pat Freiermuth is the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

Freiermuth starts with a nice chip to help his tackle, redirecting a wide rusher inside just enough to make the blocking angle significantly easier. He then runs a wheel route that ends up a touchdown. On the surface this looks like a lob the defense should have gotten to, but the impressive part happens when Freiermuth is right around the 10 yard line. He looks back for the ball, sees the high throw downfield, and accelerates to the ball. That acceleration is no joke, as you can see him run past two defenders to get to the ball. Freiermuth has good second-level speed that makes him a tough cover for linebackers and slower safeties.

Pat Freiermuth is the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

Here is that acceleration on play action. By the time the linebackers realize it isn’t a run Freiermuth is ten yards down field, exploiting the linebacker-safety gap and then doing what he does best, power for some crucial extra yards. Freiermuth is an enormous threat on these seam routes, routes that Jesse James and Vance McDonald used in 2018 a lot when they combined for over 1,000 yards.

Pat Freiermuth is the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

A nice little option play here, the defense stays home on Freiermuth and he turns into a blocker, enabling his quarterback to dive for the first down untouched. Freiermuth is a smart blocker who will seal defenders away from the play.

Pat Freiermuth is the H-back, behind the line to the bottom of the screen.

Here is Freiermuth run blocking he delivers a decent pop here, but he doesn’t drive the defender, so much as try to hug him and hold him in place. the defensive end discards him without too much effort.

Pat Freiermuth is the H-back.

This is a fantastic little play action pass. Freiermuth starts out like the play above, like he’s coming to block the end, makes a smooth catch and accelerates into the end zone.

Michigan State was a solid defensive team in 2019, allowing 22.5 points per game, they gave up 21 to Freiermuth as he was a mismatch they couldn’t handle.

Freiermuth played four games in 2020, he injured his shoulder in his second game, and then opted out for the rest of the season two games later.

While Freiermuth shined against Michigan State in 2019, Ohio State was a tougher game for him in 2020.

Freiermuth is the third receiver from the bottom of the screen.

Freiermuth doesn’t get the ball on this play, but he gets into the soft spot of the zone defense and he’s open. What I like about this play is his acceleration and how well he gears down into that soft spot. Guys his size don’t stop on a dime, but this is pretty good. It’s hard to cover that deep seam without giving up stop routes if a player can do it like this.

Freiermuth (#87) is the tight end to the right side of the screen.

That linebacker is Baron Browning, a linebacker with elite athleticism (9.98 RAS). Freiermuth runs away from him to make the catch then breaks his tackle for some extra yards.

Pat Freiermuth is the tight end to the right side of the screen.

You can’t ignore a play like this. First, probably not a great idea to put a tight end on Jonathon Cooper, he’s a really good edge rusher. But for Freiermuth? This isn’t just losing to a good rusher, though, this is bad blocking. Freiermuth lets the defender get into his chest and dictate the terms of engagement. It gets him driven into his quarterback, and then thrown aside like a ragdoll.

The main problem here shows up in almost all of Freiermuth’s blocking. Freiermuth is a positional blocker, he looks to get between the defender and the ball and stay there. That worked fine on the QB run against Michigan State, it doesn’t cut it against NFL caliber linebackers and ends. It also brings into question his temperament as a blocker. The Steelers made a point of getting offensive lineman that have a nasty temperament when blocking, Pat Freiermuth is not like that at all.


Conclusion

Pat Freiermuth is a mismatch athlete at the tight end position. He has incredible physical tools, but there isn’t much polish on his skills, either as a receiver or as a blocker. When he is allowed to run, he is deadly. As a blocker he shows potential, but his flaws aren’t just mechanical, he needs some urgency in his blocking. I don’t think he’ll ever show nastiness as a blocker like he shows when he has the ball, but a less passive/positional approach would be nice.

The fact that analysts call him a throw-back tight end should let you know just how much the game has changed since the days of Heath Miller. As a receiver, Freiermuth isn’t going to separate from good coverage safeties or the better cover linebackers. His real threat is in play action, where his burst makes it incredibly hard for linebackers to recover fast enough, and his awareness leads him to the right places to exploit the defense.

His value is going to depend a lot on how much he can improve as a blocker, because if he can block in-line at a solid NFL level with his receiving threat he’s a monster. If he has to play off the line, his route running isn’t good enough to make him a valuable player, he’s not even at Eric Ebron’s level lined up in the slot or out wide.

Cam Heyward may have been thinking the same thing when the Steelers drafted Freiermuth.

That’s leadership folks. Heyward throwing down the gauntlet, letting the young man know that he’s going to have to block on the Steelers. Freiermuth’s response, not on twitter, but in the gym and on the field, will determine how much of an impact he has in his rookie year and beyond.


Previous Steelers 2021 Draft film breakdowns: