Roster turnover is an inevitability in the NFL at this stage of the game, which is what made it so remarkable that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to return all 22 of their starters this past season from their Super Bowl-winning team a year prior. The Pittsburgh Steelers did this once, over a decade ago—and this past year was a far cry from that.
The lineup was shaken more than normal, and that was only further compounded in-season. This offseason likely marks another wave of players moving in and out—which makes it all the more vital that they establish a core of trusted players. Second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth figures to be one of them, and Pro Football Focus sees him as the Steelers’ breakout candidate for 2022. Anthony Treash writes:
Freiermuth has borderline already broken out, given he was a top-10-graded player at the position, but he is capable of taking his play to even greater heights. He may not be the same dynamic athlete Kyle Pitts is, but the 6-foot-5, 258-pound tight end’s play strength has been a highlight. The former Penn State Nittany Lion’s 10 contested catches and 11 broken tackles after the catch in the regular season tied for sixth among tight ends.
The next evolution of his game as a receiver, really, is more about how he is used than what he is doing. The offense needs to get him more opportunities to field the ball down the field and in space, to allow him more high-quality opportunities to create yards after the catch. As it is, he has gotten little to work with, and that shows in his well-earned-but-low yards-per-catch figure.
A second-round pick out of Penn State, Freiermuth caught 60 passes in 2021 for 497 yards with seven touchdowns. The seven scores is tied for the most by a rookie tight end in team history, and also for second-most by a tight end overall in team history. His 60 receptions are also a tight end rookie record, and the fourth-highest by any rookie in team history—most of the top three coming since 2017 with Chase Claypool, and then Najee Harris this year, breaking the record all over again.
The rookie quickly gained the trust of Ben Roethlisberger by always being where he is supposed to be when he is expected to be there and catching the ball when it comes to him. It sounds pretty simple in theory, but is a lot more complex in practice, which is why when a quarterback has that guy, he sees the ball a lot.
This isn’t to say that he is a finished product, and he’s certainly not going to approach the offseason that way. He still has room to grow in every phase of his game, especially blocking, and area in which he is not deficient but has the capability of being a plus player.