The Pat Freiermuth vs Heath Miller debate is heating up for Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers have a true stud at tight end again finally, and in due time people may see him as the best tight end in NFL history.

The Steelers opted to move forward with Pat Freiermuth as their tight end of the future when they took him in the second round of the NFL Draft in 2021. He was an impact player from day one, a rare feat for a position that tends to have a longer developmental curve from college to pro game. After years of mediocre play there, Freiermuth looked the part of a capable starter.

Heading into his second season, I was as high as anyone on the potential that Freiermuth had in this offense. He certainly hasn’t disappointed. While he has seen his touchdowns regress, his total catches, yards, and most importantly, yards per catch have increased. All of this occurred while he was also being the focus of a lot of defense’s coverage schemes.

Freiermuth is quickly working his way up the Steelers tight end legacy board after just two seasons with the team. With Freiermuth becoming such a key offensive weapon, the debate is soon going to be who was better, Freiermuth or former tight end Heath Miller.

Pat Freiermuth is among the NFL’s best already

Before digging into that actual debate, let’s just look at Freiermuth compared to the NFL. As of writing this, Freiermuth is currently a top-five tight end in the league. While he is an obvious step below Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, and even George Kittle is a better weapon right now, there isn’t a clear-cut tight end that I would say is better.

PFF tends to agree, as Freiermuth’s 77.9 rating makes him the fourth-best-rated tight end in the NFL. Statistically, he has the sixth most receiving yards of the group. This means both ratings-wise and statistically, he is out-producing notable names such as Kyle Pitts, Dallas Goedert, and David Njoku.

Important to note is that this Steelers team hasn’t relied heavily on the passing attack this season. For a myriad of reasons, the team is only 24th in the league in terms of passing yards and only has 11 total passing touchdowns. I can guarantee you that if Freiermuth was in an offense with more stable quarterback play (and an offense that attacked the middle of the field more) he would be even higher on both of these lists.

Even more impressive is the fact that Freiermuth has established himself as the go-to security blanket for this offense. While Diontae Johnson is the longest-tenured receiver and George Pickens makes flat-out ridiculous catches, Freiermuth is the security valve that both quarterbacks have turned to.

Who will be the better Steelers tight end?

While the debate isn’t quite ready to take center stage, I’d expect it to be a hot topic among Steelers fans in the next few years. Miller was the standard for fans, and after retiring, the team was seemingly looking for their next Heath. They have found a very suitable replacement in Freiermuth.

Important to note is that Miller had over 700 receiving yards only three times during his career and had seven or more scores only twice. Freiermuth has accomplished both of those feats in both of his seasons as a pro. Assuming the passing game improves next season, there is little reason to believe he won’t continue to build off those numbers.

The one area that Miller will always reign supreme is as a blocker. He was like another offensive tackle out there. While Freiermuth isn’t a bad blocker (especially by today’s standards), he isn’t anything near what Miller was. That said, he has the chance to surpass him as a receiver, so there is an offset there.

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Am I ready to say that Freiermuth is a better tight end than Miller was? Not yet, but within the next two years, there could be a serious argument for it. Miller was a great fit for what this offense needed while he was here, but Freiermuth has quickly developed into a top tight end in the league. He isn’t ready to take the crown, but don’t be surprised to hear this argument gain some traction over the next few years.