And you thought the Steelers were done taking receivers early in the draft.
For the fifth-straight spring, the Steelers took a pass-catcher on Day 2 of the annual player-selection extravaganza last weekend. But instead of a wide-out, Pittsburgh selected Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
If you’re a Steelers fan, you may have felt like many of the spectators who attended the event in person and were perhaps ready to cheer for that center from Oklahoma when the legendary Franco Harris stepped to the podium to announce the 55th selection.
Only, instead of immediately breaking out in a loud celebration, you may have had to pause first while processing the fact that Pittsburgh skipped over one huge need in favor of another.
Sure, you knew the name—Freiermuth was someone who flirted with the first round in many of those mock drafts in the weeks leading up to the real thing—but was this the right call?
You can debate the choice when talking about the decision to take Freiermuth over that center from Oklahoma, but there’s no mistaking the fact that tight end was a major need heading into the draft.
Vance McDonald retired in the winter. The Steelers didn’t address that departure once free agency kicked off in the spring. With so many other needs taking center stage—including running back, tackle and, yes, center—it was easy to forget about tight end.
Who was going to play the position if Eric Ebron got hurt? For that matter, who was going to play the position if he didn’t? The Steelers want to get back to running the football more in 2021 and want to do so out of various formations, including “12 personnel" (I just learned that). Therefore, a stud tight end was needed.
The Steelers got that in Freiermuth, at least on paper. He was a player who seemed to get better and more productive every year before a shoulder injury derailed his final season at Happy Valley.
I don’t know if Freiermuth will be a great player at the professional level, but as a second-round pick, he wasn’t brought in to be a backup who rarely sees the field; according to my brief research, multiple tight ends see the field at the same time in “12 personnel.” In other words, the Steelers have big plans for him. Will Freiermuth reach the heights of a Heath Miller or, heck, even a Jesse James? That remains to be seen, but you have to feel good about the fact that the second-ranked tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft should be—better be—the second guy on the depth chart, next season, and not Zach Gentry.
I also don’t see Freiermuth as someone who will be content with just being a glorified tackle. From what I’ve studied about the guy—again, very briefly—he seems to relish making big plays and using his 6’5”, 251-pound frame to run over defenders while doing so. Had his junior year not been cut short due to the aforementioned shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, he may have snuck into the first round of the draft.
With the selection of Freiermuth in the second round, the Steelers reinforced a fact about their draft strategy that we should have already known: Their big board is much different than our big board.
The Steelers may not have drafted the center everyone wanted in the second round (I’m talking about Creed Humphrey if you didn’t already know that), but that doesn't mean they didn’t get the tight end they needed.