Sleepers, breakouts, and busts. Three terms often used regularly with one another this time of year as we patiently wait for the start of the 2022 NFL season. During the dog days of the offseason, speculation is at an all-time high as fans and the media alike look for potential stories to creative a potential narrative regarding the outlook of a team or a certain player.
When it comes to fantasy football, avid managers look to find that next potential breakout star that they can nab in the mid-to-late rounds of their fantasy drafts that can carry them to the glory of a fantasy football title. Recently, The Athletic published a piece where they selected an offensive skill position from all 32 teams to watch out for as that potential 2022 breakout.
In the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic made the choice of promising second-year TE Pat Freiermuth:
“Some might suggest Freiermuth’s rookie campaign was his breakout season with 60 receptions on only 79 targets and seven touchdowns in fewer than 60 percent of the offensive snaps. But with Eric Ebron gone and the Steelers likely to attack the middle of the field more with likely starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Freiermuth’s numbers could skyrocket him into one of the top six tight ends in the league by the end of the year. Freiermuth became a red zone target for the Steelers last year with his athletic ability and good hands. He scored six touchdowns in a seven-game span, and Matt Canada’s motion offense should allow him to rack up some easy catch-and-run opportunities.” — Mark Kaboly
Freiermuth is a sensible option to be Pittsburgh’s fantasy breakout candidate this season for several reasons that Kaboly mentioned in his statement on the second-year TE out of Penn State.
While Freiermuth did post seven TDs and logged a catch percentage of 75.9% as one of the more sure-handed receivers on the team, he fell just shy of 500 receiving yards (497) and played only 62% of the offensive snaps as a rookie (683) according to Pro Football Reference. Should his usage on the field go up with Eric Ebron no longer on the team and not having to be eased into the lineup like he was as a rookie, Freiermuth’s snap counts could exceed 80% and possibly jump into the 90% range like Heath Miller held during his tenure in Pittsburgh. More snaps would likely equate to more routes run, thus leading to more targets and receptions for the talented pass catcher.
Still, while Freiermuth should figuratively see more playing time in 2022, the question remains how much of a target share will he command as well as how big that pie will be with Ben Roethlisberger no longer the QB. Many expect the Steelers to become more run-heavy in 2022, taking the pressure off either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett to captain the offense the same way Ben did the last two decades, pushing for the league lead in pass attempts on several occasions the last few years. Should the overall pass attempts drop from the 664 the team had in 2021, the pie condenses for a talented group of pass catchers including Freiermuth, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, and Najee Harris.
A near 12% target share last season for Freiermuth is nowhere near elite for pass catchers, but for the best of the position like Travis Kelce to be at nearly 20%, Mark Andrews at 25%, and George Kittle at 18%, Freiermuth doesn’t have that much room to go up in terms of overall target share before he is in-line with the best at his position. Sure, Freiermuth could increase his target share from 12% to say 20% to match Kelce, but if everything were kept the same in terms of catch percentage, yards-per-catch, etc, that would put Freiermuth at a stat line of nearly 100 receptions for 836 yards and 11 TDs.
The receptions and TDs alone would put Freiermuth in a similar category to Andrews prior to his 2021 breakout season, but that is factoring in his over 11% TD rate and Pittsburgh replicating 664 pass attempts in 2022. For Freiermuth to truly breakout, the pass attempts need to stay high, and the offense needs to keep him as more of a focal point in the passing game in his second season. He will have to maintain his high TD rate as well as improve his YPR which was an 8.3 YPR last season.
It’s not impossible, as Pittsburgh should figuratively be able to stretch the field more this season. However, while I expect Freiermuth to take a notable step forward, I would exercise caution naming him a potential top five player at TE after the 2022 season has concluded.
What are your thoughts on Pat Freiermuth? Do you see him as a potential breakout candidate? How much of a leap do you think he will make, and could he possibly push himself into the top five conversation at TE by season’s end? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!