Steelers tight end, Pat Freiermuth, was impressive as a rookie, but here’s why his play in the red zone was among the best in the NFL during the 2021 season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may not be a team overflowing with talent as we approach the 2022 season. There are still some big areas of concern while many positions are projected to have just average starters. However, one young player fans can really get excited about is tight end, Pat Freiermuth.
Freiermuth was labeled as a second-round player throughout the pre-draft process, but most NFL Draft analysts considered this to be a good value pick when the Steelers selected him with the 55th overall pick in the 2021 draft.
With a sharp learning curve for tight ends from college to the NFL and with Eric Ebron ahead of him on the roster entering his rookie season, we didn’t exactly know what to expect from Freirmuth in 2021. I think it’s fair to say that he exceeded all of our expectations.
In his first season in Pittsburgh, Freiermuth caught on quickly. He proved to be well-rounded as both a receiver and a blocker, as he routinely bullied defenders on move blocks in the open field.
In the receiving game, Freiermuth caught 60 of 79 targets for an impressive 75.9 percent catch rate, via Pro Football Reference. While this equated to just 497 yards (8.3 yards per reception), the rookie tight end did so something at a particularly high level: dominate the red zone.
Pat Freiermuth was dominant in the red zone
Despite his moderate usage in the passing game, Pat Freiermuth hauled in 7 red zone touchdowns in his first NFL season and become a go-to option for Ben Roethlisberger in paydirt. His ability to bully defenders in the endzone helped him earn an impressive accolade entering the 2022 season.
Recently, Pro Football Focus ranked the top red zone tight ends in the NFL. Freiermuth was listed as the 3rd-best behind just New England’s Hunter Henry and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews. Here’s what Bryant Horn of PFF had to say:
"3. PAT FREIERMUTH, PITTSBURGH STEELERSReceiving Grade in Red Zone: 82.7In his first NFL season, Freiermuth caught 72.2% of his 18 red-zone targets for 92 yards and seven touchdowns. The Penn State product caught 13 of his 15 catchable targets and brought in three of his six contested targets."
Despite his modest production and efficiency elsewhere on the field last season, there’s no denying that Freiermuth’s work in the red zone last year was thoroughly impressive. The well-rounded tight end had just one TD away from tying Diontae Johnson. Remarkably it took Johnson 90 additional targets in the passing game (169 total) to earn just one more score.
Steelers could have a star in the making
For many tight ends — even some highly-touted prospects coming out of college — it takes years before we see the level of play we saw from Pat Freiermuth last season. As a result of his impressive performance from the gate, the Steelers rookie earned the 9th-best overall grade at the position last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Immediately following his rookie season, Freiermuth was already seeing his name crack the first round of 2021 NFL re-drafts. In fact, there’s certainly an argument to be made that Freiermuth could be more valuable to the team in the future than 2021 first-round pick, Najee Harris — particularly when you compare how much longer a good tight end can stay on top in the NFL.
Freiermuth doesn’t have monstrous size or length at the position and he’s just an above-average athlete in respect to other NFL tight ends. However, much like former Steelers star, Heath Miller, that’s not how he wins.
Instead, Freiermuth bullies defenses with his natural hands to pluck the ball out of the air, his ability to box defenders out, and his tenacity as a run blocker — all traits that could keep him around for a very long time.
I was disappointed that the Steelers passed on Creed Humphrey twice in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it’s hard to be upset with landing a quality football player like Pat Freiermuth. I think he’s already a top-12 NFL tight end with Pro Bowl upside in the near future.