I don’t know how it ended up working out for other teams. But when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, their entire draft class consisted only of players who were on the field during the 2020 collegiate season. Even their college free agent signings came from among those who had the opportunity to play last year, or who chose to play.
General manager Kevin Colbert was open following the draft about the fact that they used that factor as a tiebreaker. If necessary in the event that they had two players graded closely, they favored the player who had tape and experience from the past year. That group very much includes Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, whom they drafted in the second round. Freiermuth doesn’t regret his decision to play in the slightest, even though he ended up injured.
“First of all, I wanted to play this season because I love Penn State. I love that whole community. I love everything that they’ve done for me,” he told reporters during his introductory conference call on Friday when asked what went into his decision to play. “I’ve said this multiple times that I owe that university more than it owes me. Every chance that I can go out there and put a Penn State jersey on, I was going to do it.”
Penn State plays its football in the Big Ten conference, which initially made the decision to cancel its fall athletics seasons, a decision that they later reversed, playing a shortened slate. Some players in the interim opted to declare for the draft, or otherwise not play.
“I never thought of opting out. When the season got canceled, I was like, what’s my next step? But I was waiting for them to put it back on,” Freiermuth said. “So, when they did, I was excited about that. I have no regrets about going out there and playing the season and getting hurt. You never want to get hurt, but that’s the first major injury I’ve ever had, hopefully the last one, and I learned a lot from that adversity-wise. So, I’ll take those lessons and I cherish them. I have no regrets.”
The Nittany Lions played a nine-game schedule in 2020, but their featured tight end only made it through most of four games after suffering a shoulder injury against Ohio State, which shut him down for the remainder of the year. He also told reporters that he recently received full clearance.
During the time that he was on the field, however, he was a problem. He caught 23 passes in those four games, and though he only got into the end zone once, he produced 310 receiving yards.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Freiermuth is a two-way tight end who relishes his role as a blocker as much as he goes going out and catching passes. I can quite imagine that the Steelers will greatly appreciate the enthusiasm with which he goes about his business.