Given how significant the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class has been so far during the 2021 season, it would be fitting if we use some of the downtime this week during the team’s bye to pause and take stock of where those rookies are right now.
Pittsburgh drafted nine players, with eight of them making the initial roster. Seven of them have been regular contributors for all or most of the season, including numerous starters, so there is a lot to discuss, with four starters on the offensive side of the ball alone.
After investing in the skill positions in the first two rounds with running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers turned to the offensive line, with center Kendrick Green in round three, followed by tackle Dan Moore Jr. in round four. All four are starting.
Their next four picks all went to the defense, starting with inside linebacker Buddy Johnson in the fourth round, followed by defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth, outside linebacker Quincy Roche in the sixth, and defensive back Tre Norwood in the seventh. They rounded things out with punter Pressley Harvin III with a final seventh-round pick.
TE Pat Freirmuth (round 2)
It may be debated for years to come whether or not the Steelers erred in passing over the offensive line positions in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft in favor of the skill positions. What cannot be debated is that the tight end position was long overdue to be addressed.
It also would not be controversial to say that the rookie second-round draft pick has looked pretty impressive so far. Although he does have one drop on the season so far, his hands have been as good as advertised, having caught 18 of the 20 targets he has had thrown his way this year.
Those 18 receptions have also includes some tough catches, and while he has had some successes and failures, he has shown the potential to pick up yards after the catch. He caught a career-high seven passes on Sunday for 58 yards, though, frustratingly, two of those receptions came up short on third and long, on plays on which there was little he could do.
Freiermuth is already pretty polished when it comes to running routes, finding the soft spots in zones, and presenting himself to his quarterback. I don’t think there is much doubt that he will continue to grow into an accomplished receiving tight end.
He has also very much displayed the acumen and the desire to be a good blocking tight end, though there is certainly a further distance to travel down this road, which is the norm for the vast majority of tight ends entering the NFL today, even the ones regarded as ‘complete’ tight ends.
The bottom line is he’s already getting ‘MUUUTTTHHH’ chants at Heinz Field whenever he makes a catch. Most fans are not thinking about Creed Humphrey. Some are. But that shouldn’t take away from Freiermuth as a player, who has been a positive presence for this team early on.