Week 3 was a crazy week of NFL actions. Huge field goals, surprise losses, and most importantly a win for my Rams. I didn’t quite see the same immediate success after my Rondale Moore article. But I’ll take Van Jefferson having more receptions than Robert Woods as a sign of his potential.
This week’s Tomorrow’s Star Today is someone who isn’t in such an explosive offense. They’re incredibly talented but often overlooked for a few reasons. Part of this was due to another player in the same position in the draft. Part of this is due to the offense stagnating a little bit and part of this is simply due to how unexciting his position is. But I firmly believe they have a chance of becoming a star in a shallow position.
This week’s Tomorrow’s Star is Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Who is he
Pat Freiermuth was a three-year starter at Penn State. At high school, he was notable for playing both tight end and linebacker. This shows us instantly the kind of athlete that he is. He also played basketball in high school, which is something NFL commentators love to point out about a couple of other tight ends. In his second year of college, he was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and Penn State’s Most Valuable Offensive Player. Added to this Freiermuth won the Big Ten Tight End of the year in 2020.
After a great college career, Pat was the consensus TE2 amongst draft analysts. However, despite this, Pat found himself rarely spoken about in pre-draft analysis. This was due to one person – Kyle Pitts. Pitts’ presence within the 2021 draft meant that Freiermuth slipped into the background. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore him. In most other classes, Pat would have easily been the number one tight end.
At 6’5 and 251lbs, Pat Freiermuth already comes in with prototypical size for the position. He was strong as both a blocker and a receiver in college. In fact, he set the record for most touchdowns by a tight end at Penn State. This is more notable when you remember Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki was there a few years beforehand. When you watch his film, you see a highly competitive player who is as good with the ball in his hands as he is at providing a big target for first downs. This skill set immediately translates to the NFL. Freiermuth is clearly strong, as you can see in how he bowls defenders over. But this also shows itself in how Pat is able to catch the ball in traffic with ease.
Freiermuth was drafted by the Steelers at pick 55 in the second round in the 2021 NFL draft. This was a great landing spot for Pat. The Steelers had just lost Vance McDonald to retirement and Eric Ebron did not have a firm grip on the lead position. Alongside this, Ebron could be seen as a potential mentor to Freiermuth. His age also meant that it shouldn’t take Pat too long to take over the lead role.
What’s his outlook for this season
As a community, we know not to expect too much from rookie tight ends. The position is a complicated one. Part offensive line, part wide receiver, it takes longer for prospects to develop. They might be asked to do things in the NFL that they never did in college. Coming into this season, we were told to temper expectations for Freiermuth. He was a dynasty prospect only with limited redraft value.
However, as you’ll have noted from various waiver wire articles this week, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Pat already seems to have taken over the TE1 position in Pittsburgh. Even when we just look at snap count, we can see that they’re roughly even. Ebron has seen 98 snaps so far this year to Pat’s 92. When it comes to receptions, it’s not even close. Freiermuth has caught 8 passes for 82 yards. Ebron has caught just one pass so far. Against the Bengals, Pat caught his first NFL touchdown, battling through defenders at the goal line.
However, just because Pat has seemingly taken over the lead role early, doesn’t mean he’s instantly going to be a star. Unfortunately, I now have to talk about Big Ben and the Steelers offense. Clearly washed Ben should retire. His arm strength is appalling, struggling to even hit an out route in stride. Without mobility, it’s become clear that the Steelers are not going to win with him at QB.
There’s a world in which this benefits Pat this year. If Ben can’t push the ball down the field, then shorter passes to the tight end might be more frequent. However, I would temper all ambitions for the Steelers offense this year. Watch Big Ben versus Cincinnati and you’ll see why.
Why is he a future star
However, this doesn’t mean Pat can’t be a star in the future. At the tight end position, volume is key. Eric Ebron’s contract expires at the end of this season. That leaves Pat completely free to dominate the tight end room in Pittsburgh. We’ve already seen that Ebron might not be too big of a threat to Pat’s opportunity. That will go through the roof when Ebron actually leaves town.
However, Ebron isn’t the only potential Steeler leaving this year. Firstly, there’s Juju Smith-Schuster, who only signed on a one-year deal to remain in Pittsburgh. Juju is a slot receiver, meaning his targets come from the same area of the field as a tight end. With him potentially gone, it could open up a world in which Pat is the main target over the middle of the field.
Then we get to the big one. I’d be surprised if Ben Roethlisberger remains in Pittsburgh next year. His contract expires at the end of the year and it would be best for everyone if he called it a day. This means the Steelers could see themselves drafting a rookie quarterback. If this season continues as it’s trending, that might even be a high draft pick. Tight ends are often spoken about as a rookie QB’s best friend, and I think it would be great to see Pat Freiermuth develop with a rookie. This volume and connection could lead to him being a star at a position that doesn’t have many.
In the off-season, Pat Freiermuth was going around the mid-second round in rookie drafts. Currently valued as the TE18 in startups according to FantasyPros ADP. I think you could buy him for a straight swap with a contender for a tight end who has more immediate value. Perhaps someone like Tyler Higbee or Hunter Henry. But if you’re rebuilding with a timeline looking at competing in 2023, Pat is a huge buy to me. An early second-rounder potentially gets the deal done.