Sometimes there are some prospects that are just so elevated above the rest of his position group coming out, in terms of their pre-draft evaluations, that it seems as though it’s this guy and then everybody else. Unquestionably, tight end was one of those positions for the NFL in the 2021 draft.
Kyle Pitts was drafted fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons, the first non-quarterback off the board. The next tight end to be selected was Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 22nd pick — in the second round, 55th overall. Another would not be taken until the second half of the third.
Pitts is, of course, a superior athlete, and appears to be a pretty clean prospect with regards to the likelihood that he actually develops into the professional player at this level that was predicted, but it has left others like Freiermuth in the draft process feeling like the forgotten tight ends.
“I kind of felt like that, but I’m happy with were I ended up, obviously, being a Steeler and everything,” he told Missi Matthews in an interview for the team’s website last week. “But that’s kind of how I like it, just being under the radar and doing my own thing, not really having that attention. That’s what makes me focused, and allows me to have a chip on my shoulder. That’s where I thrive most, is when people doubt me or don’t really see me for who I am. Just kind of have that chip on my shoulder and go out there and prove them wrong.”
The Steelers added Freiermuth following the retirement of Vance McDonald after eight years in the league, the last four of which he spent in Pittsburgh. While they still have Eric Ebron under contract for one more season, the depth at the position was suddenly disturbingly thin.
Both he and the Steelers regard him as a multi-dimensional tight end, capable of receiving, blocking for the run, and working in pass protection, and that is something Pittsburgh values a lot out of the position, something they were missing with McDonald gone.
He only played in four games for Penn State last season before injuring his shoulder, but he came way with 310 receiving yards during that time on 23 receptions and one touchdown. He caught 15 touchdown passes in his first two seasons as well, with most of his work coming in the red zone.
Freiermuth should be able to come in and contribute right away, giving the Steelers an effective 12 personnel look that will allow them to remain flexible with either the run or the pass. Under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, hopefully it’s something that they can actually exploit this go-around.