The Pittsburgh Steelers were spoiled when they had Heath Miller at tight end. His ability to find the open space, and be Ben Roethlisberger’s security blanket, was unbelievably valuable. So valuable, most fans didn’t realize what they had until it was gone.
Since Miller called it a career, the Steelers have tried their hardest to replace him, but have never been able to find a player like Miller. Miller wasn’t the most athletic player at the position, but his two-way play as a pass catcher and blocker was just what the Steelers’ offense needed.
Enough nostalgia, the question here is Pat Freiermuth a similar type player to Miller? Can he be a security blanket the Steelers’ signal caller hasn’t had since Miller retired? Matt Williamson, former NFL scout, broke down just what Freiermuth brings to the Steelers offense in 2021. First, a synopsis of the type of player Freiermuth was at Penn State University before being drafted 55th overall.
“At Penn State’s, Freiermuth spent a high percentage of his time detached from the formation, usually operating out of the slot. The reason for this mostly was because Freiermuth was the foundation of Penn State’s passing game and was their featured receiver. Can he operate in a more traditional “In-line Y” role? Freiermuth’s skillset certainly implies that he can, but that won’t come overnight. As a blocker, Freiermuth will need work as all incoming rookie tight ends do, but he has the strength, length and want-to to develop into a very good in-line or move blocker at the NFL level. Also, when you watch Freiermuth block at Penn State, you do see some snap in his hips and pop in his hands on contact. That is a great foundation to work with as he matures as a blocker in-line or from a detached position.
“As a receiver, Freiermuth has big strong hands and a large catching radius. His ball skills are impressive. But Freiermuth really steps things up once he secures the reception. He is nasty after the catch and looks for contact. Freiermuth drags tacklers and overall, is very good with the ball in his hands. Freiermuth was also a dominant player for Penn State in the red zone. When there is less field to work with, Freiermuth stepped up his game. That is something you love to see from any player, but especially tight ends. Everything gets tougher on offensive players when the space to operate on the field is reduced.”
Okay, with what Freiermuth did well in college out of the way, what can Steelers fans expect from the talented tight end when he steps onto the turf for the Steelers as a rookie?
“It’s early, but I’m excited by the potential. Like every team in the NFL, the Steelers offense played a high percentage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) with Eric Ebron as the tight end in these sets. With all respect to Ebron, who creates mismatches in the passing game, to me he is more of a huge slot receiver than a traditional tight end. So, in the running game, if the Steelers had three receivers, Ebron and a running back on the field in that 11 Personnel, they really only had five true blockers making space for their ball carrier. Expect to see Ebron and Freiermuth on the field together quite often, but there also should be times when the rookie is the sole tight end on the field. Having this added weapon gives Pittsburgh a lot more tactical advantages in terms of offensive personnel usage and how the defense counters with their base, nickel or dime packages. And if the opposing defense is noticeably weaker in one of these defensive personnel packages, Pittsburgh is very well equipped to force their opponent into playing with that lesser unit on the field for much of the game.
“As is the case for Najee Harris, maybe the best thing Freiermuth brings to this organization is the ability to be extremely quarterback friendly. Harris and Freiermuth play different positions and have vastly different skill sets, but big receiving backs and athletic tight ends with good size provide their quarterback with a lot of very manageable throws to the flats and middle of the field. Both these players have large strike zones and can be deployed all over the field. Any quarterback should appreciate these qualities a great deal and can lean on them in a huge way.”
Freiermuth will have a lot to prove as a first year player in 2021, but expectations are high for the former Nittany Lion this season. No one is expecting him to light up the scoreboard, but if he can be a two-way tight end, improve his blocking and continue to be a red-zone monster, you might see plenty of Freiermuth jerseys flying off the shelves and “MUUUUUUTH” being screamed at Heinz Field.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.