When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Penn State, Pittsburgh was aiming to get not only a complete package at tight end as a receiver and blocker, but also a real red zone weapon at the position.
Early returns on that investment were very strong in 2021 as Freiermuth became a force in the red zone, developing great chemistry with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, leading to seven touchdowns as a rookie.
After having never dropped a red-zone target in his career at Penn State, Freiermuth picked up with the Steelers right where he left off in college, using his attention to details and real understanding of coverages in the red zone to thrive as a rookie, becoming a true weapon in that area of the field for a Steelers’ offense that desperately needed that type of finisher in the passing game.
“I just think, there’s so much detail down there, and I’m such a detail-oriented guy, that maybe some person that’s great in the open field lacks that kind of detail, because it feels smaller,” Freiermuth said to reporters following his preseason breakout performance against the Detroit Lions last summer. “I understand coverage more down there and understand what I need to do to get open and score a touchdown.”
Throughout his rookie season, Freiermuth was very good in the red zone, earning a grade of 82.7 in that area of the field from Pro Football Focus as a rookie. That ranked him third overall in the NFL in the red zone, according to PFF’s Bryant Horn Friday morning in his piece ranking the top tight ends in the red zone.
Freiermuth graded out just behind New England’s Hunter Henry (90.2) and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews (88.6) in that area of the field.
“In his first NFL season, Freiermuth caught 72.2% of his 18 red-zone targets for 92 yards and seven touchdowns,” Horn writes regarding Freiermuth landing at No. 3 in the rankings based on grades. “The Penn State product caught 13 of his 15 catchable targets and brought in three of his six contested targets.”
Those numbers are rather impressive, especially from a rookie at a position with a relatively steep learning curve overall. Despite being new to the NFL, Freiermuth was very comfortable in the red zone, doing what he did at Penn State: finding ways to get open in tight quarters and making great plays on the football thanks to his terrific hands.
Hauling in three of six contested targets in the red zone is rather impressive, too. There was the key catch against the Cleveland Browns on the road with a defender draped all over him. There was also the great grab on the jump ball in the end zone against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football as well that immediately stands out as Freiermuth’s contested-catch plays.
Of course, there is also the tough catch he didn’t come down with on the final play against the Minnesota Vikings on the road on Thursday Night Football.
Still, Freiermuth had a great rookie season and became exactly what the Steelers were hoping for when they drafted him, that being a dominant red zone weapon for the black and gold.