The Pittsburgh Steelers bet on the skill positions during head coach Mike Tomlin’s second season at the helm, drafting running back Rashard Mendenhall in the first round and wide receiver Limas Sweed in the second. One hopes that the wisdom of time will help them yield better results with their most recent effort to double up at the skill positions in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The early returns are good, admittedly. First-round running back Najee Harris has seven touchdowns, and recently became the first player in Steelers history—and 30th in NFL history—to record 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his first 10 games. Second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth is second on the team in scoring with five touchdowns, and has been generally reliable—outside of a couple of notable exceptions.
Both of them have integrated well into the offense, and it’s helped that they were quick to build a relationship with 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, establishing a rapport on the field as well as off the field. Due to proximity, and role, that may be a bit more truth of Freiermuth than Harris, the quarterback acknowledging that they’ve grown close both professionally and personally.
“His locker’s next to mine so we naturally talk a lot. I think he’s just a really good person. I enjoy teaching him what I can”, he told reporters yesterday. “I think that he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler through and through. I can see him being here his whole career. I just think he enjoys the game of football and it’s fun to be around someone that really has a passion and joy for this team and wanting to be good”.
There probably aren’t a lot of things fans like to hear about a player from another teammate than to hear it told that they in some way embody what it is to be a member of that team, and that they seem like the sort of player who will be their for their entire career.
We’re talking about the Hines Wards and the Troy Polamalus, the Cameron Heywards and the…well, the Heath Millers, to whom Freiermuth bears a striking resemblance in more than one way. He is certainly, by far, the closest thing that the team has had to that sort of do-everything, reliable safety valve tight end since he retired.
And that was a retirement coming after spending his entire 11-year career as a member of the Steelers, drafted in 2005 and retiring after the 2015 season, after catching nearly 600 passes for over 6,500 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Through the first 10 games of his rookie season, Freiermuth so far has caught 36 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns. He is on pace to finish the year with roughly 62 receptions for 490 yards and eight or nine scores. Not a bad way to start your career—though they’ve got to get that yards-per-reception number up by giving him some more targets down the field.