From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#87 Penn State – Pat Freiermuth / TE / 6’5” 260 lbs
- Solid build (6’5” 260).
- Good route runner for his size. Solid feet, good short area quickness and burst. Can line up all over the field.
- Very good hands. Tracks the ball well, able to attack it in the air.
- Strong, physical player. Has shown a willingness to lower his pad level and initiate contact with the ball in his hands.
- Strong football IQ and awareness. Able to read the defense and get open on the fly. Would mesh well with the Steelers’ (particularly Ben’s) scramble drills.
- Lacks straight-line, breakaway speed.
- Can improve his release. Seems to be more comfortable against off man rather than press when lined up outside or in the slot.
- Uses his body to catch passes at times.
- Lacks true explosion in his routes. Might struggle with getting consistent separation against NFL talent at times.
- Blocking can be improved. Has a solid foundation but should be more aggressive (seems to have shown improvement over the years).
- 2019: 43 receptions, 507 yards, 7 touchdowns.
- Career: 92 receptions, 1,185 yards, 16 touchdowns.
- Voted team captain in 2019 and 2020.
- Named AFCA All-America second team in 2019.
- Tied for 8th all-time at Penn State with 16 career touchdown receptions.
Tape Breakdown: The Pittsburgh Steelers have been looking to solidify the tight end position since longtime fan favorite Heath Miller retired in 2016. While Eric Ebron was a solid contributor in the passing game and an improved yet inconsistent blocker for the Steelers in 2020, both he and fellow tight end Vance McDonald are set to be free agents in 2022. With the current cap situation that the Steelers face, they could also look into cutting one or both of them before the upcoming season.
The 2021 draft class has a good group of tight ends that the Steelers could look at in order to stabilize their future at the position. While all the recent hype surrounds Kyle Pitts from Florida due to his receiving prowess, fans should also be looking at Pat Freiermuth from Penn State. Freiermuth would be a welcomed addition to the Steelers tight end room. He has the attributes to be a viable receiving threat, and he has a solid foundation as a blocker with room to improve. It is imperative for tight ends to be good blockers in the Steelers’ system, and this is where I feel he would have to most improve if drafted by the Steelers. Tight end is usually a slower-developing position in the NFL, so fans should not expect a player to come in and dominate immediately.
If drafted, the Steelers would have time to further develop Pat Freiermuth. The Nittany Lions and Freiermuth (who had season-ending shoulder surgery) had a “down” year overall, but his draft stock should remain high.
These two clips are back to back plays from Penn State’s 2018 game with Maryland. Pat Freiermuth was a freshman. These clips display what I think will be his most significant area to improve upon when drafted: blocking. Freiermuth possesses all the necessary attributes to be a great blocker, and I do believe that he has progressed since his freshman year from a fundamental standpoint, but in these clips, he does not display a willingness to engage and stick with blocks.
When you watch a player like 49ers tight end George Kittle, you can tell how much pride he takes in trying to consistently win when it comes to blocking. I did not see that desire from Freiermuth in certain plays from this game. I know that he is a passionate, maximum effort type of player, but these reps show up at times when watching his film. In the first clip he seems timid to attack the safety, instead awkwardly dancing around. In the second clip he again does not display a willingness to engage with his block in a fundamentally sound fashion, and the defensive back makes him pay for it, tossing him.
Like I said, Freiermuth does seem to be an improved blocker since 2018, and he still has room for even more improvement, but in order to be an elite blocker in the NFL you need to take pride in your work and show a desire to complete your assignment each and every play.
Now let’s look at a play from his 2020 season against Nebraska. Here we are able to see Freiermuth’s potential as a blocker, and his improvement since his freshman season. In this play he is lined up off the line of scrimmage, and serves as a puller, working in tandem with the right guard. Once he reaches the third level of the defense, he is able to push the safety towards the sideline in order to create a gap for his quarterback to run through. On this play he shows a willingness to engage with the block. He also utilizes solid hand placement. He lowers his pad level and sticks with the safety, driving him away from the ball. He is still inconsistent at times, but the potential for growth is there.
This clip from the same game shows Freiermuth’s quick pass receiving ability. Penn State often manufactured him touches close to the line of scrimmage. Here he shows athleticism and short area burst as he is able to put his foot in the ground to stop his momentum, then he slips an arm tackle and eludes some other defenders on his way to a first down. This is impressive for a guy of his size, and it is why Penn State targeted him around the line of scrimmage so often.
In this play from Penn State’s 2019 game against Minnesota we are able to see Freiermuth’s route running on display. Penn State has trips to the right and he is lined up as the middle receiver in the set. The defender is in off coverage and Freiermuth plants his leg in the ground in a sort of “dead leg” fashion in order to explode into the slant route. He then makes the catch and is able to hold on through contact with two defenders. This is a great play from Freiermuth and showcases why he is able to line up in different spots all over the field.
This next clip is my favorite from Freiermuth’s film. It depicts his football IQ and awareness. The Minnesota defense runs a zone concept that they also showed earlier in the game. Freiermuth previously ran a stick route and was covered on the play. On this play, Freiermuth is able to flip his out route up field in order to find some open space. This is something that Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes have thrived upon together in the Kansas City offense. We have also seen Ben Roethlisberger be extremely successful at keeping plays alive then finding open receivers over the duration of his career.
As a receiver, you have to be able to read the defense and find holes when the play breaks down. Freiermuth demonstrates that he has that ability here, and this would mesh well with the Steelers’ offense and Ben Roethlisberger’s style of play (assuming he is back for the 2021 season).
During this play from the 2019 Cotton Bowl against Memphis, Freiermuth shows strength and physicality. In this clip, Freiermuth lowers his pad level and trucks the safety on his way into the end zone. Although he did not actually score, this play set up a rushing touchdown. Penn State loved to utilize Freiermuth as an H-back. This way they were able to get him moving laterally post-snap in order to feed him the ball in open space. I believe that the NFL team who drafts him will find success utilizing him in this fashion.
Freiermuth is able to make plays with the ball in his hands and does not shy away from contact.
Moving on we have a play from Penn State’s game against Kentucky in 2019. In this clip Penn State runs a flood concept and Freiermuth is able to find some open space in the defense. What really stands out here is Freiermuth’s ball skills. It is not a contested catch, but he is able to high point the ball while it is in the air. He exhibits strong hands and is able to ultimately come down with the grab. This is a great catch from the tight end. His combination of strong hands and polished route running make him a threat in the intermediate areas of the field. This is where I can see him doing a lot of damage in the NFL, along with work close to the line of scrimmage.
Freiermuth struggled against #3 ranked Ohio State in 2020 (he also sustained a shoulder injury which would require season-ending surgery). While not entirely his fault, there are some plays where he was unable to get separation and was covered well. In this clip, Freiermuth is straight up jammed by the defender. He is unable to get off the line and is taken out of the play completely. The quarterback did look as though he was only ever looking at the glance route on the left side of the field, however.
Regardless, I believe Freiermuth can still improve upon his release. He seems to be more comfortable working against off coverage rather than press. Penn State liked to line him up all over the field, and in order to consistently win on the outside at the next level he will need to improve in this area.
Like any player, Pat Freiermuth currently has both strengths and weaknesses. However, his strengths stand out more, and this makes it easy to pick at small details when discussing his weaknesses. Overall, he is a well-rounded player with a massive amount of potential at the NFL level.
I think a fit with the Pittsburgh Steelers would make sense as long as they believe in his foundation as a blocker. He seems to check some of the boxes that the Steelers look for when it comes to draft evaluation. He is reported as being a person of high character with an impressive work ethic. Due to the state of the Nittany Lions in 2020, I could see Freiermuth fall to the early second round, but I do believe he should be a late first-round selection.
Projection: Late first rounder – early second rounder
Games Watched: Maryland (2018), Minnesota (2019), Memphis (2019), Kentucky (2019), Nebraska (2020), Ohio State (2020)