Of any spot in football, the tight end position has provided a model of consistency throughout the history of the NFL, from Mike Ditka to Antonio Gates, Shannon Sharpe, and Tony Gonzalez, to newfound headliners in Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and soon-to-be in-line superstar Kyle Pitts. One name flying under the radar during camp has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Pat Freiermuth.
A second-round selection this April out of Penn State, Freiermuth was dominant during his time in Happy Valley, amassing 16 touchdown catches with 1,185 receiving yards in 29 career games. After his freshman and sophomore seasons, where Freiermuth’s name quickly became a topic of conversation within the draft community, the Newburyport, Massachusetts native appeared in just four games his junior season following a shoulder injury that ended his campaign. A versatile talent with the ability to maul in the run game and release in space, Freiermuth has quickly established himself as a top tight end in Pittsburgh.
In his first preseason appearance, as he did under the lights at Beaver Stadium, Freiermuth was dominant, hauling in two Ben Roethlisberger darts for touchdowns—a trend the 17-year veteran hopes to continue with his newfound red-zone target.
“I’d like for other teams to not know too much about him,” Roethlisberger said.
Freiermuth enjoyed a record-setting career as a Nittany Lion, recording a school-record 16 touchdowns for a tight end, highlighted by his outrageous 100% catch rate when targeted inside the 20-yard line. While many expected Eric Ebron to take an even further leap as the Steelers’ top in-line option, the potential now for Pittsburgh to present 12-personnel (two-TE) looks throughout their offensive game plan will be a nightmare to counter each week.
A transcendent athlete with a prototypical tight end build at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, it was easy to see why general manager Kevin Colbert was so high on Freiermuth during the offseason cycle. His fluidity as a route-runner, strength, consistency, and production has flashed throughout the summer months as the Steelers look to build their offense back up following a mass of changes within the front five, and alongside Roethlisberger in the backfield with the addition of former Alabama standout Najee Harris.
With Ebron’s inconsistencies as a blocker in the run game (at times he looks lost) along with his inability to remain consistent in the pass game with his hands, Freiermuth’s path to a major role not just within the red zone but as a mainstay in Pittsburgh’s base offense looks to be more of a certainty than a question mark just weeks away from Week 1. Surely there will be moments where Freiermuth will be out of position or will miss a blocking assignment, but with the ultra-experienced vet in No. 7 slinging the football, his mistakes could come with a layer of fluff.
Freiermuth, who will turn 23 years old during the season, has all the fundamental talent to offer the dynamic, consistent, pass-catching talent head coach Mike Tomlin has longed for since the retirement of Heath Miller more than a half-decade ago. While Miller’s tenure in Pittsburgh resulted in the most illustrious career of any tight end in Steelers history, Freiermuth presents a modern-age offensive weapon Roethlisberger could soon find as his most reliable target within Pittsburgh’s crowded passing game.