Whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers revitalize their usage of two-tight end sets this year following the second-round selection of Pat Freiermuth remains to be seen. It didn’t really come to fruition last year after they signed Eric Ebron in free agency and still had Vance McDonald to work with.
McDonald has since retired, but Freiermuth perhaps profiles to be a younger, higher-upside version of who McDonald was at the height of his Steeler career, or so they hope. And for what it’s worth, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert did talk about package flexibility as one of the real assets they coveted when drafting him.
“Pat’s a little bit unique,” he told Pat Kirwan yesterday during an interview on SiriusXM Radio. “The traditional tight end position, it’s gone away, and it’s getting replaced by smaller, more athletic guys that can play in the slot and block on the perimeter for all the horizontal passing that goes on in our games.”
“Pat can play attached. He can play wide. He can play H. He can get out in that slot and be athletic,” he continued. “So we can go from a regular set with a tight end, two wide receivers, two backs, and all of a sudden, we can be in a two-tight end package, because you could put the fullback up at tight end. If you don’t have the fullback in, you could put the tight end into the slot and create mismatches with both Eric Ebron and Pat. We’d like that versatility, and quite honestly, there’s just not a lot of those types of players in this draft, or really any recent drafts.”
There are plenty of merits in draft theory. At the end of the day, it’s important for a team to have an identity and to know what they want to do, and to acquire the pieces needed to do that. They have a profile for the kind of tight end they want to use, and they knew they weren’t going to find any more Freiermuths later on in the draft. Whereas they were more comfortable with the depth of the offensive linemen, and I think that’s understandable.
Picking him up was also key, given the fact that Ebron’s contract expires after this season, and he’s also not necessarily just getting started. Even though he’s actually just recently turned 28, he is still going into his eighth season. McDonald just retired after eight seasons, and a lot of tight ends don’t make it much further than that.
Of course, the three-receiver set is going to be the Steelers’ base package. But they can still showcase flexibility from that set with wide receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool who are bigger-bodied, blocking-capable athletes. Put Freiermuth into that mix, and you have a less predictable, more rushing-friendly grouping.