Don't Call Him 'Baby Gronk', Pat Freiermuth Happy To Carve Own Path

Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There are a few things Pat Freiermuth wanted to clear up following Penn State’s Pro Day on Thursday. The first was the misconception is that he’s a one-speed route-runner. The second: Don’t call him “baby Gronk.”

Freiermuth, at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, has the prototypical build for an NFL tight end; his measurements almost mirror current NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski’s when he was ahead of the 2010 NFL Draft. Over a decade later, Freiermuth has drawn comparisons to the perennial star tight end; Freiermuth, however, hopes his talent stands alone, which brings us back to the first point. But before Freiermuth could show NFL evaluators his versatility as a route-runner, he had to overcome moments of adversity and anxiety.

Freiermuth, who had a breakout freshman season as a key part of Penn State’s passing attack, was looking forward to cementing his status as a top-ranked player in his position. He was happy with his decision to play through an unprecedented season despite the worst start in Nittany Lions’ history and an out-of-rhythm offense; it was still the same community he loved even if the momentum surrounding it changed. Freiermuth was so committed to playing, he fought through injury. He had played through the pain for weeks, and in three of the four games, his arm was numb. There came a point he couldn’t ignore the looming fact: His shoulder injury was so severe it required surgery. Freiermuth ultimately decided to forego his remaining eligibility, undergo surgery, and start a strict recovery regimen in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft.

It’s an ongoing process. Freiermuth wasn’t fully healed by the time his Pro Day came around on Thursday. He has about 2-3 weeks left until he’s cleared for contact; albeit, he’s ahead of schedule.

“I had a lot of anxiety going into the process, just with my shoulder,” Freiermuth said after running some drills in front of scouts, particularly tormented by Pittsburgh Steelers tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts. “I hate being that guy that misses stuff; even in the workouts in the offseason where I had miss upper body [workouts] for the first couple of weeks recovering from my shoulder, it was definitely challenging because I love competing. But it taught me a couple of things about adversity and always taking care of my body. I’m very thankful for my shoulder injury kind of showing me what it’s like to go through adversity. The process was definitely anxious but I’m happy I did as good as I can do at Pro Day, and it was just a great day overall.”

Freiermuth was particularly happy with how explosive he was. He calls the misconception about his route-running “completely false” and was committed to showing league personnel how well he could accelerate and decelerate. Freiermuth had a few double moves to show off too. 

His blend of size, route-running, and physicality are attributes teams covet in tight ends, especially in today’s NFL. Freiermuth needs to be more than a blocker; he needs to be a consistent, reliable pass-catcher. He needs to, at his size, effectively move through the secondary. There’s a consensus among teams that he’ll be a move or an F tight end; Freiermuth will quite literally move around the offense from slot receiver to fullback to wide receiver. He’s entered late Day 1 conversations, and, in The Draft Network’s latest mock draft, went as high as No. 37 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wherever Freiermuth finds his new NFL home, he plans on bringing the same consistency he showed in three years at Penn State. The two-time team captain can be an instant leader in a budding offense, and a player, despite his big presence, who will listen—and more importantly, learn. Freiermuth showed a glimpse of what he was capable of through just over 90 games in what he dubs the future “Tight End U,” and now, he’s on the cusp of bringing that to the next level. 

“I’m going to be that guy that is working hard and always listening to teammates,” he said. “They know what they’re going to get from me and that’s 110% every single day in practice, in games.”