Needless to say, a team doesn’t draft a tight end in the second round if they don’t have every intention to see him develop into a core player for their team down the road. He may have to wait a bit before he can serve as their number one tight end on a full-time basis, but that time, one expects, will come.
That’s where Pat Freiermuth sits with the Pittsburgh Steelers after they drafted him in the second round last month, pairing him up with veteran Eric Ebron as he enters the final year of his contract, with no guarantee’s he’ll be back. But even while Ebron is here, analyst Matt Williamson expects to see a lot of the Penn State product early on.
“Maybe the best thing Freiermuth brings to this organization is the ability to be extremely quarterback friendly”, he writes in a draft review article for the Steelers’ website, also referencing running back Najee Harris. “Big receiving backs and athletic tight ends with good size provide their quarterback with a lot of very manageable throws to the flats and middle of the field. Both these players have large strike zones and can be deployed all over the field. Any quarterback should appreciate these qualities a great deal and can lean on them in a huge way”.
Based on how last season went, one might observe that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was really lacking in just that sort of help, but you obviously don’t add pieces like this for a one-year rental. Their skillsets will benefit any quarterback.
And Freiermuth is more than just a pass-catcher, which is why Williamson expects that he will have some packages during his rookie season that feature him as the lone tight end on the field, not due to rest or some rotation, but by intention.
“Expect to see Ebron and Freiermuth on the field together quite often, but there also should be times when the rookie is the sole tight end on the field”, he writes. “Having this added weapon gives Pittsburgh a lot more tactical advantages in terms of offensive personnel usage and how the defense counters with their base, nickel or dime packages”.
He also notes that the different pieces that they now have will give them the flexibility to ensure that they can consistently put their opponents in their weakest packages, whether it be base, nickel, or dime, thanks to players like James Washington and Freiermuth—even an Anthony McFarland or Ray-Ray McCloud.
The rookie has commonly drawn comparisons to former Steelers tight end Heath Miller, and it’s no surprise why, so it’s fitting that he ended up in Pittsburgh. That doesn’t mean he’ll have the same type of career, but it’s reasonable to expect him to be a solid contributor or more for years to come.