In the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, the big question on Pat Freiermuth’s mind was where would he go? The Merrimac native knew his dream of playing professional football was about to come true and that his life would never be the same, but not knowing what team and what city he’d soon call home weighed heavily.
The former Penn State tight end finally got his answer Friday night when he received the call from Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, and by all accounts Freiermuth landed in a best case scenario.
Freiermuth was selected in the second round (No. 55 overall) by the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers, the reigning AFC North champions who are coming off a 12-4 season and perennially rank among the most competitive organizations in the NFL. Beyond being a well-run franchise, the Steelers are also only a two or three hour drive from Freiermuth’s college campus, and according to those who follow Pennsylvania sports closely, Freiermuth and the Steelers could be a match made in heaven.
“The thing with Pat is he can come in and play right away,” said Audrey Snyder, who covers Penn State football for The Athletic. “He’s the kind of [guy] where, we saw it in college, he can do everything.”
Snyder said that in terms of his football ability, Freiermuth is the complete package in terms of what you want from a tight end. Where former Penn State and current Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki is an athletic freak who could make highlight reel catches but isn’t as reliable a blocker, Snyder said Freiermuth will help the Steelers in that aspect of the game while also providing a dynamic receiving option downfield.
The former Pentucket and Brooks School standout will have every opportunity to see the field as a rookie, as the Steelers have historically made tight ends a focal point of their offense. Last year Eric Ebron (56 catches, 558 yards, 5 touchdowns) was the team’s only consistent producer at the position, but for much of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career tight end Heath Miller was the most prolific and reliable option in what was always a dynamic and high-powered offense, retiring second in team history with 592 catches in 11 seasons.
In addition to landing in a good football situation, Snyder said Freiermuth should fit in well culturally as well.
“The part that stood out to me most is the fact that he gets hurt and tries to play a couple more weeks with the injury,” said Snyder, who added that she doesn’t think Freiermuth’s shoulder injury affected his draft stock or eventual position. “I think the fact that he wanted to play despite the team not being great, the team had already bottomed out, that’s an example of who he is.”
Snyder said those character traits and his prodigious talent made Freiermuth highly popular within the Penn State football fanbase and that local fans were ecstatic to hear he would be playing in nearby Pittsburgh. There is a lot of overlap between the Penn State and Steelers fandom as well, and in addition to coming in with a strong connection to the local fanbase, he’ll also have the unique opportunity to stay connected with the Nittany Lions program.
“It’s neat where you’re in a position where you’re not that far from where you played college ball. During bye weeks you can get up here and watch a game if you want,” she said. “So I think it’s cool that they can keep that connection as a face to face thing, just because they’re so close. In this league it’s so rare that something like that happens.”
The closeness between the Steelers and Penn State likely helped solidify the team’s decision to invest in Freiermuth’s future. Snyder said the Steelers have a regular presence at Penn State’s Pro Day and at games during the season, so they likely got to know Freiermuth better than most despite the scouting challenges imposed by the pandemic.
With all of that in mind, she thinks Freiermuth and the Steelers could be together for a long time.
“The Steelers, you always hear they’re the ‘hard hat, blue collar, bring their lunch pail to work,’ all those stigmas that always surround Pittsburgh, and I think that’s who Pat is,” Snyder said. “So many times it was like ‘I don’t want my recruitment to be a big deal, I’m just going to commit and be done with it, I don’t want all the attention, I’m going to go to work and do my job.’ And from a philosophical standpoint it sounds like they know exactly what they’re getting and Pat knows exactly who he is.”