Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: TE Pat Freiermuth
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The second-year tight end made progress in 2022 in the one key area that will probably be most indicative of his future success. That would be in producing longer receptions, whether by catching more passes further afield or picking up more yards after the catch.
Could Pat Freiermuth have taken a bigger jump from year one to year two? Sure, if you want to explore the subject completely without nuance. The Steelers were in the middle of a major offensive shift with the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He had to work on syncing up with two different new quarterbacks.
And in an offense that was throwing the ball less, as well. But one advantage of the change was that the passing game was less dependent upon the short, quick-release passing game that dominated Roethlisberger’s final seasons, largely a tool to mitigate his lack of mobility.
Both Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky were able to move around in the pocket, and to throw out of the pocket. That benefited all targets with more receptions of intermediate depth, but it may have made the biggest difference to Freiermuth. His average depth of target jumped up by three full yards. His yards per catch jumped up even more.
While his yards after the catch increase wasn’t huge (he actually technically broke more tackles last season), he had more opportunities to catch passes in space, fewer contested catches. That’s why he picked up an extra 235 yards from last season despite only catching three more passes.
Not all areas were notable improvements, however. Obviously, they need to find him in the end zone more after scoring seven touchdowns as a rookie and only two last year—both of them from Trubisky. But scoring can be much more variable year to year, especially amid changes.
The bigger disappointment was the lack of clear strides we saw in his in-line blocking ability. A lot of tight ends at this stage take more than one year to develop in that area. I’m not entirely convinced that will ever be an asset for Freiermuth. But I’m not sure the Steelers are ever going to ask him to make it one, given his receiving skill set and having a complementary tight end in Zach Gentry.