Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth will return to practice today, but will remain on the reserve/injured list, the team announced. The team will have 21 days to activate the former second-round pick to the active roster, or he will miss the rest of the 2023 season.
Freiermuth hasn’t played since Week 4 because of a hamstring injury. After making an attempt to return after the team’s Week 6 bye and reaggravating the injury, the Steelers elected to place him on injured reserve. He caught just eight passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns before suffering the injury, averaging a career-low 3.25 targets per game in his third NFL season.
Though Freiermuth’s return is a huge win for the offense in general, his sporadic usage will need to become more consistent to make his presence truly felt. He’s been one of the best receiving tight ends in the league since drafted in 2021, ranked sixth among all tight ends with 1.68 yards per route run in 2022, totaling 732 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his sophomore season.
A big contributor toward his lack of usage would seem to be Pickett’s avoidance of the middle of the field in general. Among quarterbacks with 200+ pass attempts this season, he ranks dead last in pass attempts, targets and completions on targets to the middle of the field.
So far this season, Pickett has averaged the eighth-lowest tight-end target rate in the league 15.8%, though it’s not necessarily due to Freiermuth’s absence. In fact, in Weeks 1-4 with Freiermuth active, Pickett targeted the tight end position on just 15.7% of passes — a slightly lower rate. Considering the stagnant pass attack Pittsburgh has been deploying on a weekly basis, it would serve them well to get Freiermuth more heavily involved at the point of his return.