Is Pat Freiermuth already the most underrated player on the Steelers?

Pat Freiermuth #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Pat Freiermuth #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Pat Freiermuth had an impressive rookie season, but here’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers tight end still isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

It’s not often that I would argue that a player who only has one season under his belt is already the most underrated player on the team. However, that might be the case with the Pittsburgh Steelers former second-round draft pick.

This was a designation that I reserved for Stephon Tuitt a few years back. Prior to sitting out the 2021 season and ultimately retiring from football, Tuitt was a menace along the Steelers interior defensive line, and I genuinely believed his play reached a Cameron Heyward level.

With Tuitt gone, the title of ‘most underrated player’ must move on to someone else, and I think that person is TE Pat Freiermuth.

Najee Harris is the Steelers player who gets all of the love from the 2021 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he carried the load, as expected, and has instantly become a fan favorite thanks to his lovable personality. However, Freiermuth arguably had a better rookie season, yet he’s only talked about a fraction as much.

If you recall back to the start of last season, Freiermuth didn’t get the nod as the starting tight end early in the year. That role was given to Eric Ebron. Unfortunately, the veteran tight end was rather underwhelming. In his three starts to begin the season, Ebron combined to catch just 1 pass on 7 targets for 19 yards, via Pro Football Reference.

The rest of the season didn’t go much better for Ebron. In addition to dealing with injuries, Ebron was soon benched in favor of rookie Pat Freiermuth. From there, the Penn State product wouldn’t look back.

What makes Steelers TE underrated?

While he was somewhat quiet during the first five weeks of the season, Freiermuth soon made his presence felt. From Week 6 to Week 9, Freiermuth reeled in 16 of 20 targets and chipped in 3 impressive receiving touchdowns.

The rest of the season he was similarly efficient — though his usage varied from game to game. By the end of the season, Freiermuth had hauled in an impressive 75.9 percent of his targets for 497 yards and 7 touchdowns. He did all of this while only being credited with 9 starts last year.

Perhaps what was most impressive was the success that Ben Roethlisberger had when throwing to him. Though Diontae Johnson was clearly his go-to target, no Steelers receiver was more efficient with his looks as the Roethlisberger-to-Freirmuth connection was accompanied by a 121.1 passer rating (thanks to 7 touchdowns and 0 interceptions when targeted).

After seeing 683 snaps as a rookie in 2021 (just 62 percent), that number stands to increase substantially in 2022 now that Ebron is out of the picture. I have a feeling that Freiermuth is just going to be one of those players that the Steelers never want to take off the field because he knows his assignment and is simply good at everything he does.

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Pat Freiermuth isn’t guaranteed to be an elite tight end (just like Stephon Tuitt was never considered an elite interior defender). However, at this point in time, I do think he’s the most underrated player on the team. With a huge sophomore campaign, he could start to draw the respect he deserves.