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Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth was even better in 2021 than you think he was

Looking at Pat Freiermuth’s growth over the course of his rookie season.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Pat Freiermuth was the Steelers second round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. A talented receiver joining a team that would experience one of its worst passing offenses of the last 20 years. In spite of the offense Freiermuth was in, he ended up a top 20 tight end in receiving yards and 6th in receiving touchdowns. He earned a spot in the offense from the beginning, playing 50% of offensive snaps to start the season.

Steelers vs. Bills, 3rd quarter, 4:15

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

Freiermuth bounces off the jam from the defensive end and finds the gap in the zone. This was Freiermuth’s only catch of Week 1, and it was his longest reception of the season. He started drawing the attention of defenses pretty quickly.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 1st quarter, 8:09

Pat Freiermuth (#88) is just behind Zach Gentry to the left side of the screen.

Early in the season Pat Freiermuth established a reputation as a good run blocker, especially for a rookie. This is a great example. Freirmuth navigates a messy backfield and lands the key block to spring Najee Harris for a nice gain.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 3rd quarter, 11:30

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

Freiermuth could do more than block and catch passes when wide open. He showed right off the bat that he was a hard target for a linebacker to cover. He has the athleticism to win routes with speed and change of direction while being able to handle the physicality that linebackers bring to coverage.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 2nd quarter, 1:09

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

Pat Freiermuth’s first touchdown was also his only touchdown scored before the bye week. This play was much more about the design of the play that drew defenders toward Najee Harris (far left on screen) and Freiermuth’s big contribution in powering through the linebacker Dan Moore Jr. failed to block.

Like most Steelers rookies, Freiermuth had a more limited role before the bye week, and stepped up his involvement in the offense after the week off. With Freiermuth this showed up with him lining up in different alignments more and being more of a focus in the red zone.

Freiermuth showed up and made plenty of plays early in the season, but the Steelers increased role for Freiermuth paid off immediately after the bye, as the Steelers faced the Cleveland Browns.

Steelers at Browns, 4th quarter 11:09

Pat Freiermuth (#88) is lined up in the slot 2nd from the bottom of the screen.

Pat Freiermuth started lining up in the slot more after the bye and became an early and even primary read for Ben Roethlisberger. It pays off here as Freiermuth beats the man coverage of safety Ronnie Harrison to give the Steelers the lead with what ended up being the game-winning score. The best part of this play is the catch, check it out from the end zone camera.

That’s a great catch.

Steelers vs. Bears, 3rd quarter 2:14

Pat Freiermuth (#88) is the receiver farthest to the top of the screen.

This is one of my favorite plays of 2021, and it shows such potential for the Steelers offense heading into 2022. Freiermuth is lined up outside with a cornerback. He wins the route with his strength and size. It’s a simple throw and a nice catch, but his ability to dominate a cornerback one-on-one creates so many problems for defenses, and lets the Steelers force nasty mismatches like Chase Claypool (third from bottom) going against a linebacker while still threatening the defense with Freiermuth.

Check out the all-22 film, and you can see how Freiermuth ran this route bullying the corner for position.

As soon as they make contact Freiermuth drives the route vertically, and does so again as they approach the end zone and that gives him plenty of room for Ben Roethlisberger to place the ball in.

These two plays show Freiermuth physically dominating defensive backs, but Freiermuth wasn’t limited to winning with physicality and size.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 4th quarter 4:14

Pat Freiermuth is again lined up on the outside and is facing Vikings starter Bashaud Breeland. Freiermuth runs right at Breeland’s inside shoulder and Breeland anticipates a vertical stem. Freiermuth doesn’t even touch Breeland. Freiermuth’s change of direction is fantastic for a player of his size and physicality, and it makes him a genuine threat against starting cornerbacks.

One of the best ways to judge a tight end is to look at what players they can block, and what players can cover them. The baseline for a tight end is they need to be able to block players that can cover them, because if they can’t block someone, and they can’t beat them on a route, then that defender has removed the tight end from relevance. For Pat Freiermuth, he can block linebackers and even defensive ends, and at the same time very few players can cover Freiermuth and shut him down.

The kind of threat Freiermuth brings to the field makes it very hard for a defense to match up personnel with the Steelers offense. In Matt Canada’s offense which thrives by creating mismatches, a natural mismatch like Freiermuth isn’t just a weapon, he can be a centerpiece of the scheme because as he lines up or moves in motion the defense has to account for his threat as both a blocker and receiver.

He was that player in 2021, and he was more important to the offense than most people realize. In 2022? expect even more from Freiermuth, not just in the stats he collects, but the value he brings to the offense no matter what he’s doing.