Matt Williamson is a former NFL scout and current co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio Subscribe to the podcast here. Williamson's opinions do not reflect those of the Steelers organization.
The Draft Pick: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
The Draft Spot: Second Round, 55th Overall
This is the earliest Pittsburgh has drafted a tight end since picking Heath Miller in the first round in 2005. And there are some similarities between these two players. Obviously, if Freiermuth goes on to have a career even resembling Miller's, who is in my mind the best tight end in Steelers history, this organization will be elated. But with all respect to Miller, Freiermuth is much better after the catch and is the more explosive athlete.
What is Freiermuth as a player? At Penn State's, Freiermuth spent a high percentage of his time detached from the formation, usually operating out of the slot. The reason for this mostly was because Freiermuth was the foundation of Penn State's passing game and was their featured receiver. Can he operate in a more traditional "In-line Y" role? Freiermuth's skillset certainly implies that he can, but that won't come overnight. As a blocker, Freiermuth will need work as all incoming rookie tight ends do, but he has the strength, length and want-to to develop into a very good in-line or move blocker at the NFL level. Also, when you watch Freiermuth block at Penn State, you do see some snap in his hips and pop in his hands on contact. That is a great foundation to work with as he matures as a blocker in-line or from a detached position.
As a receiver, Freiermuth has big strong hands and a large catching radius. His ball skills are impressive. But Freiermuth really steps things up once he secures the reception. He is nasty after the catch and looks for contact. Freiermuth drags tacklers and overall, is very good with the ball in his hands. Freiermuth was also a dominant player for Penn State in the red zone. When there is less field to work with, Freiermuth stepped up his game. That is something you love to see from any player, but especially tight ends. Everything gets tougher on offensive players when the space to operate on the field is reduced.
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick Pat Freiermuth
What will Friermuth's role be in 2021? Its early, but I'm excited by the potential. Like every team in the NFL, the Steelers offense played a high percentage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) with Eric Ebron as the tight end in these sets. With all respect to Ebron, who creates mismatches in the passing game, to me he is more of a huge slot receiver than a traditional tight end. So, in the running game, if the Steelers had three receivers, Ebron and a running back on the field in that 11 Personnel, they really only had five true blockers making space for their ball carrier. Expect to see Ebron and Freiermuth on the field together quite often, but there also should be times when the rookie is the sole tight end on the field. Having this added weapon gives Pittsburgh a lot more tactical advantages in terms of offensive personnel usage and how the defense counters with their base, nickel or dime packages. And if the opposing defense is noticeably weaker in one of these defensive personnel packages, Pittsburgh is very well equipped to force their opponent into playing with that lesser unit on the field for much of the game.
As is the case for Najee Harris (Williamson Draft Review: Najee Harris), maybe the best thing Freiermuth brings to this organization is the ability to be extremely quarterback friendly. Harris and Freiermuth play different positions and have vastly different skill sets, but big receiving backs and athletic tight ends with good size provide their quarterback with a lot of very manageable throws to the flats and middle of the field. Both these players have large strike zones and can be deployed all over the field. Any quarterback should appreciate these qualities a great deal and can lean on them in a huge way.