Pat Freiermuth was a bit of a surprise as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-round selection in the draft earlier this year, not because of where he was drafted, but because of what the team’s other needs were perceived to be at the time.
He can’t control that, of course. The only thing he can do is control what he does on the field, and since day one, he’s been committed to contributing in every facet of the game at his position, including blocking. But where he’s impressed most so far is as a receiver, yesterday drawing high praise from one of Pittsburgh’s speedy linebackers.
“He’s amazing. That’s all I’ve been saying every day”, third-year Ulysees Gilbert III said, speaking to Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller after practice on Tuesday. “He’s just a great tight end. He’s very smooth in his routes, he’s very precise, and he has great hands, strong hands”.
In 29 games at Penn State over the past three seasons, Freiermuth fielded 92 receptions for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns. Due to a shoulder injury, he was limited to just four games, but still managed to catch 23 passes for 310 yards in that time. And he’s been looking like a high-profile Pro Bowler on the practice field in Pittsburgh, Gilbert says.
“He’s been a great competitor to go against, because I know this year we play the Chiefs, and he reminds me of Travis Kelce”, he said, “just how smooth he is and how great of hands he has, so it’s great to go against someone like that every day”.
That’s very lofty praise for a rookie, to state the obvious. Kelce is a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. He has five straight 1,000-yard seasons, and multiple seasons with 100 receptions or 10 or more touchdowns. Last year, he caught 105 passes for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns, all personal bests.
The Steelers don’t need Freiermuth to be that, though it would be nice. But they didn’t draft him to be a big wide receiver, which is basically what Kelce is. The rookie is going to be expected to be a complete tight end, with very real commitments in the blocking department, including going up against defensive ends.
Last week, general manager Kevin Colbert was asked about Freiermuth, and he relayed the funny anecdote of what head coach Mike Tomlin says to the rookie on the field after he makes a big play. “That’s good, can you block?”, he asks his second-round pick, in a playful but motivating manner.
But the second-round pick is fully aware of what the expectations are, and what his role needs to be. He embraces that. But he’s not going to shy away from looking like Kelce in the passing game if he can. And Tomlin’s never going to complain about him making a big play—maybe he’ll just gently remind that he has to pull around left end for a power run play the next down.