The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Pat Freiermuth has the potential to become a top 10 tight end in the league.
Explanation: The Steelers used a second-round pick to draft tight end Pat Freiermuth, by far the earliest they have selected a tight end in well over a decade, and the earliest pick used on the position since Heath Miller in the first round in 2005.
Over the course of the past five years, there have been 12 seasons by tight ends in which 1,000 receiving yards or more were recorded. Travis Kelce has five of them, and George Kittle has another three. There are only 33 tight ends who have even recorded one 600-yard season during that span. Several of those have since retired.
Considering the level of quarterback play Pat Freiermuth worked with at Penn State, I think it’s more than reasonable to believe that he can develop into a consistently productive receiving tight end. Like Heath Miller but with a higher volume of targets, and thus bigger numbers.
Ben Roethlisberger won’t be here much longer, but Freiermuth will make a great security blanket for whomever comes along next, whether it’s Mason Rudolph or another candidate. And that’s not to factor in his blocking ability, which I believe can measure up better than most of the talented receiving tight ends short of Kittle and Rob Gronkowski.
Top 10 is a pretty lofty goal, and one also has to figure into the equation new faces. Kyle Pitts is one, but there will be more in 2022 and 2023 and on down the line. There’s a reason Pitts went fourth overall and Freiermuth 55th as the second tight end taken. It’s representative of the gap in talent between top 10 tight ends and tight ends who are just capable of being really solid.
Eric Ebron was recently ranked outside of the top 20 of starting tight ends, coming in all the way at 25, even though he has been consistently productive as a receiver despite drops, and even has been to a Pro Bowl. But as the list attests, there are a lot of tight ends.
Here are 11-24 on the list: Noah Fant, Jonnu Smith, Zach Ertz, Logan Thomas, Robert Tonyan, Jared Cook, Austin Hooper, Tyler Higbee, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Gerald Everett, Mo Alie-Cox, O.J. Howard, and Jack Doyle. How many of those names can you expect Freiermuth to surpass within the next few years?