Positionally, and relative to team needs, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft can be said to have been met with somewhat of a lukewarm reception. The popular hope was for an offensive lineman, specifically center Creed Humphrey, who is admittedly off to a good start in his career.
But Freiermuth has given fans plenty to cheer about already. While his blocking contributions are harder to quantify, he does have 22 receptions on the season to date for 202 yards and two touchdowns, with about half of that production coming over just the last two games.
That included a very impressive touchdown catch at the back of the end zone, which he had to double-catch due to the defender getting his hand in between his own, and contorting his body to make sure that he was able to tap his back foot down inbounds for the score, something he admitted was an adjustment for him coming from the one-foot rule in college. Head coach Mike Tomlin says that entire component of his game is something that has been a priority this year.
“That’s an area of his game that he is really working on, the body control component”, he said on the Mike Tomlin Show on Saturday. “It’s played out in the back of end zones and along the end line and so forth. But it’s also played out in terms of run after catch. It was also a big game for him from a run after catch standpoint. We threw him a couple of balls in the flat, and he was able to make the first defender miss a couple of times and pack on additional yardage”.
“That’s something that we’re challenging him to grow in and something that he has a desire to grow in”, he continued. “The significant tight ends, the unique ones, the ones that keep you up at night, like Kelce or Kittle, man, those guys are not only dangerous in terms of their ability to catch the ball, but what they do with the ball after they get it. And so he’s working in growing in all areas as well”.
Those are some lofty goals for the early stages of his career as a rookie, but that is the sort of potential that they saw in him when they were scouting him that coaxed them into making him the first tight end drafted by them earlier than the fifth round since 2007.
On his current pace, Freiermuth is trending toward 53 receptions on the year for 491 yards and five or six touchdowns. But his role is increasing as the season goes on, especially in the wake of slot receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury.
If he continues the pace of the last two games, during which he has caught 11 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, he would be due for 55 more catches in the final 10 games for 510 yards and five more touchdowns, giving him a season-long total of 77 catches for 712 yards and seven touchdowns.