As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the 2023 NFL season, all eyes are on the development of second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. And one player who could be instrumental in helping Pickett make the leap to the next level is former Nittany Lions tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Freiermuth was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft after a successful college career at Penn State.
The 6’5″ tight end quickly became a fan favorite in State College, and his skills on the field earned him the nickname “Baby Gronk” after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It didn’t take long for Freiermuth to make an impact in the Iron City, either.
Through the first two seasons of Freiermuth’s career, he’s caught 123 passes for 1,229 yards with 9 touchdowns, while averaging 10 yards per reception.
Prior to arriving in Pittsburgh, Freiermuth was a reliable target for the Nittany Lions offense.
In his sophomore season, he caught 43 passes for 507 yards and seven touchdowns, earning him All-Big Ten honors. He followed that up with 23 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown in just four games during his junior season, before being sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Now entering his third NFL season, Freiermuth has the opportunity to continue his success as a key part of the Steelers offense. And his skill set should make him the perfect security blanket for Pickett, who will be entering his second season as the team’s starting quarterback.
One of the key strengths of Freiermuth’s game is his ability to make contested catches. He has great hands and body control, which allows him to go up and get the ball in traffic. This skill will be particularly valuable for Pickett, who will need reliable targets to move the chains and keep drives alive.
Additionally, Freiermuth is a tough player who is willing to make tough catches over the middle of the field. He’s not afraid of contact and has the size and strength to hold onto the ball even when he takes a hit. This toughness will be important for Pickett as he looks to develop chemistry with his receivers and gain confidence in the pocket.
Another area where Freiermuth has proven himself a valuable part of the Steelers’ offensie is in the red zone.
During the 2021 and 2022 campaigns, Freiermuth has already pulled down nine red-zone touchdowns.
Freiermuth’s success inside the 20-yard line is on the heels of a stellar career Penn State, where he was a scoring machine, racking up 16 touchdowns in just two seasons. His size and athleticism make him a matchup nightmare for smaller defensive backs and linebackers.
The Steelers, though, will likely deploy a heavy dose of two-tight end sets this fall, after drafting Darnell Washington in the third-round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Since a reliable pass-catching tight end is so valuable to a young quarterback’s development, Freiermuth could be just the security blanket that Pickett needs to take the Steelers offense to the next level in 2023.
With his reliable hands, toughness, and scoring ability, Freiermuth could quickly become one of Pickett’s favorite targets and a key part of the Steelers’ success.