Why Pat Freiermuth was a top 10 tight end in 2022 (and will be top 5 in 2023)

Steelers, Pat Freiermuth
Steelers, Pat Freiermuth / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

When you think about the top tight ends in the league, a few names certainly come to mind. Travis Kelce has been an absolute stud on the Chiefs for nearly a decade. Likewise, George Kittle is one of the very best in the business when healthy. These two are in a class of their own.

After that, NFL analysts point to players like Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert, Darren Waller, and even Kyle Pitts as the best of the rest. But what about Pittsburgh Steelers tight end, Pat Freiermuth?

Despite missing some time with concussions in his first two NFL seasons, the former second-round pick has been able to string together 123 receptions 1,229 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns on his first 177 targets. These are respectable numbers, but fans might not realize just how good the young tight end has been.

In terms of efficiency, Freiermuth has some numbers that will make your jaw drop. He ranks inside the top 10 in the NFL among all active tight ends in at least nine advanced metrics, according to data gathered from sources like Playerprofiler, Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, and Next Gen Stats:

This isn't an easy feat to accomplish -- especially considering the circumstances. Freiermuth played with two different quarterbacks last year, and the target quality wasn't always the best. In addition, Matt Canada's offense was stale and didn't allow his pass-catchers much room to operate after the catch.

It's for these exact reasons that we have advanced metrics to give us a clearer picture of how a player actually performed, as raw production numbers can be incredibly misleading at times. When it comes to efficiency, Freiermuth was clearly one of the best tight ends in the business in 2022.

Can Pat Freiermuth become a top-5 TE in 2023?

Those who really study the position know that Pat Freiermuth has already solidified himself as a top 10 tight end in the NFL. But could he be more than that? What would it take for him to climb into the top 5 tight ends in the league?

Some would argue that he's already on the verge of doing so, and there's a debate to be made as to who is the fifth-best tight end in the NFL. The top four are pretty clear to me: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, and Dallas Goedert.

After that, there are talented players like Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson, and David Njoku. One advantage that Freiermuth may have is his age. According to Pro Football Network's best tight end list entering 2023, the Steelers TE is one of the youngest players of the 25 tight ends ranked:

Because of his youth and the trajectory of his development, Freiermuth could take another significant step forward in year three While older players like Waller and Goedert have likely leveled off at this point.

Still, I do think the top four tight ends are pretty well set in stone, and for Freiermuth to solidify himself as a top-5 player at the position won't be easy. This will likely require him to be at least as productive as players like Pitts, Hockenson, and Njoku in 2023 -- and that's without a talented rookie like Dalton Schultz bursting onto the scene.

However, after a strong rookie season in 2021, Freiermuth took a big step forward in his second season -- both in terms of advanced rankings and raw numbers. From his first year to his second, Freiermuth improved in terms of receiving yards (497 to 732), yards per target (6.3 to 7.5), yards per reception (8.3 to 11.6), and overall PFF grades (72.6 to 75.5).

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Pat Freiermuth is only an average athlete compared to other NFL starters at the position, and this could limit him some. He will never be Travis Kelce or George Kittle, but he does have a chance to boost himself into the tier just below these All-Pro tight ends. At this rate and with the improvements we've seen, he's trending toward top-5 status at his position.