Pat Freiermuth continued his strong rookie season with the first two-touchdown performance of his young NFL career in Monday night’s win over Chicago. But for those who have watched him work since becoming a Steeler, his production isn’t a surprise. If anything, it was entirely expected. Not that it makes what he’s doing any less impressive. Speaking with reporters during his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin evaluated Freiermuth’s rookie season.
“He’s doing what we’ve all seen him do throughout the process and that’s catch the football,” he said. “He makes combat catches. He makes the tough catch seem somewhat routine. His hand-eye and his body control is exceptional for a bigger body guy, tight end type of guy.”
That’s how we assessed his two touchdowns against the Bears, not to mention a crucial 13-yard grab on the Steelers’ game-winning drive, bailing Pittsburgh out of a 1st and 15 following a false start. Freiermuth has displayed great hands all year long, from training camp to Sundays (and Mondays) and his numbers are no surprise.
In training camp, we charted him catching 21 of 24 targets, a record-setting 87.5%. He’s somehow managed to do almost the same when the games count, hauling in 27 of his 33 targets (81.8%) this year. Of players with 30+ targets this season, only the Cardinals’ Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk have a higher catch percentage, no doubt scheme-related to what Kliff Kingsbury is doing with the short pass/screen game out in Arizona. Freiermuth’s mark is by far the highest of any tight end, several rungs above second place’s Tyler Higbee at 76.1%.
But quirky stats like that aren’t needed to understand the job Freiermuth has done. He’s turned into a trusted weapon for Roethlisberger. Three of his four touchdowns this season have come on third down, and he’s largely assumed JuJu Smith-Schuster’s role as the team’s go-to guy. Despite having just 27 receptions this season, Freiermuth has 12 catches on third down (one behind team leader Diontae Johnson) and a team-high three touchdowns. Seven of his 12 catches have moved the sticks.
Tomlin knows Freiermuth is off to a great start. But he’s only a rookie and will only get better from here.
“He’s still young and growing and growing in a lot of ways on and off the field week in and week out. But he’s got an awesome base and a nice skill set to build upon.”
Where can he still improve? Tomlin didn’t specify, but in watching the tape, he could still improve his functional strength as an in-line blocker while working on his feet and body control, still adjusting to getting both feet inbounds in the NFL game.