2021 Offseason Questions: How Soon Will Pat Freiermuth Be TE1?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: How soon will Pat Freiermuth become TE1?

Generally speaking, you are expecting a tight end to develop into your starter if you’re drafting him in the second round or earlier. That’s what the Steelers did with Pat Freiermuth, which marked the first time that they used a draft pick earlier than the fifth round on the position since 2007.

The rookie has been impressing since he first got on the field, and he showed the impact that he can have in the red zone last night, hauling in two touchdowns. He would have had three, perhaps, had another pass by Mason Rudolph not been thrown too far behind the play where the defender was easily able to intervene.

He didn’t have any other catches aside from the two scores, while Eric Ebron caught four passes for 59 yards, though he also had a frustrating drop on third down that came after Ben Roethlisberger made a surprisingly athletic play for a 39-year-old arthritic being chased down by athletic young men to avoid pressure.

Ebron is only under contract for the 2021 season. I don’t think anybody is counting on him being here next year, especially with Freiermuth in the mix. The general expectation is that he will be the guy next year. But is there a point during his rookie season in which he will be given that ‘TE1’ role? Will there even be a way to meaningfully distinguish between the top two tight ends?

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