Last year’s tight end class was incredibly underwhelming, but the football gods made up for it in 2021. This year in the 2021 NFL Draft, the TE1 spot is under contention from players like Kyle Pitts, Brevin Jordan, and Pat Freiermuth. All three have their areas of excellence, but Freiermuth might be the most popular of the bunch. Here’s why.
Pat Freiermuth 2021 NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 258 pounds
Position: Tight End
School: Penn State
Current Year: Junior
Tight end is one position that remains victim to subjective valuation. The position isn’t necessarily becoming expendable, but teams are starting to divert course on what style of tight end they prefer. Some teams still engage in heavy use of the traditional tight end. Others favor tight ends that offer more versatility and move around as receivers. And a select few minimize their usage of tight ends, instead opting for receiver-heavy formations to maximize speed and run-after-catch ability.
No matter how far the NFL trends into the modern age, however, there will always be a need for tight ends. Tight ends allow for mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Tight ends also specialize in contested situations and red zone production — congested phases where size is required to separate.
That size was the first thing Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth added to his arsenal. In high school, Freiermuth was a massive 6-foot-5, 248-pound prospect who also ran a sub-5.00 40-yard dash with developing athletic traits. His profile earned him four-star billing, and he was the eighth-best player at his position.
Freiermuth’s apparent physical foundation earned him lots of interest. He received offers from college football factories like Notre Dame and Ohio State. But the North Andover, Massachusetts product opted to stay a bit closer to home, signing with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State was still a seven-hour drive. However, it allowed Freiermuth to stay in the northeast while also chasing his NFL aspirations.
Pat Freiermuth’s career as Penn State tight end
It didn’t take long for Freiermuth to make waves with the Nittany Lions. Penn State lost incumbent starter Mike Gesicki to the 2018 NFL Draft, leaving their tight end position on the thin side for the 2018 season. With his upper-echelon physical traits, Freiermuth filled the void quickly, establishing himself as an imposing presence on offense.
As a true freshman, Freiermuth started nine games, logging 26 catches for 368 yards and eight touchdowns. His early success earned him recognition as an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team. Additionally, his propensity for finding the end zone put him on the watch list for scouts across the nation.
Freiermuth’s heavily-anticipated breakout season
In his sophomore season, Freiermuth was expected to break out, and he didn’t disappoint. Returning as the alpha on the offensive side of the ball, the Penn State tight end amassed 43 receptions for 507 yards and seven touchdowns. Freiermuth again earned All-Conference and All-American recognition, but perhaps even more impressive was his newfound designation as captain. As a true sophomore, Freiermuth earned the captain vote from his teammates, and he carried that into his junior season.
Finally eligible for the draft, Freiemuth had high expectations in 2020, but things didn’t go as planned. Penn State’s offense regressed with subpar quarterback play, and Freiermuth only played four games before suffering a season-ending surgery that required surgery. In those four games, the Penn State tight end accumulated 23 receptions for 310 yards and a touchdown, averaging 77.5 yards per game despite uneven play under center.
Despite the underwhelming conclusion to his career, Freiermuth accomplished a great deal with the Nittany Lions. He broke the school record for career touchdowns by a tight end. And he also solidified his status as a premier prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Kyle Pitts is the transcendent chess piece. Brevin Jordan is the run-after-catch savant. That leaves Freiermuth to be the bully.
There’s a lot more that Freiermuth brings to his game than simple physicality — as we’ll get to in a minute — but Freiermuth’s toughness is one of the first things that jumps off the screen. In every phase of his game, Freiermuth brings an alpha mentality. At his route stem, he matches any contact he faces. In contested catch situations, he has strong hands and an ability to box out defenders with his frame. Even after the catch, he’s an angry runner who has the ability to keep churning his legs and grind out tough yards through contact.
Even more impressive about Freiermuth’s game, however, is his football IQ. He has the physicality to win against smaller defensive backs, but he can also beat them decisively with his route running. Freiermuth relishes using the art of deception ahead of his stems. There are times where he can act as a blocker, then explode into open space once he’s sold his false role.
On other plays, Freiermuth shows an impressive blend of awareness and twitch with his ability to use head fakes. Freiermuth understands how defenders key in on a player’s eyes, and he actively uses that to his advantage. The Penn State tight end has enough change-of-direction quickness to feign in-breaking routes, and he then has the explosiveness to cut back upfield and blow by the misled defender.
How does Pat Freiermuth profile athletically?
Any player as smart and as tough as Freiermuth is a fairly safe bet, but how does he profile athletically? Freiermuth has been advertised as an elite athlete occasionally. I don’t think he’s quite at that level, but he’s still very good. Kyle Pitts is the best athlete at the tight end position, but that’s a high bar to clear. Freiermuth isn’t as fast, explosive, or fluid as Pitts, and he doesn’t have as much vertical athleticism, either. But he’s solid in all of those categories, and his straight-line explosiveness, in particular, allows him to capitalize on his route breaks, as well as quickly enter blind spots up the seam.
Most of the potential issues with Freiermuth stem from his athletic profile, but if anything, that just shows you how well-rounded he is. He can be a bit stiff when evading tacklers. Additionally, his contested catch ability more derives from his length and ball tracking ability, than his capacity to rise and contort. I’d like to see him elevate more often and take charge in contested situations, but his size already affords him an encoded advantage. His blocking could also use better leverage, but he’s willing, physical, and has the size to carry that over into the NFL.
Pat Freiermuth’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
People will rank the top three tight ends in this class differently. I personally have Pitts above Freiermuth, but that’s more of a nod to Pitts than a slight to the Penn State tight end. Freiermuth brings a good amount of versatility with his solid athleticism and route running prowess, and his smart, meticulous play style alludes to a persistent work ethic. Freiermuth compounds excellent physical traits with impressive toughness and attention to detail. This makes him a universally lauded tight end prospect.
Freiermuth can’t do quite as much as Pitts when it comes to creating mismatches, but he can still move around and line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Freiermuth can file in alongside offensive linemen. He can do damage in the slot with his route running and toughness in space. He also has the burst and physicality to contend with defensive backs in press coverage on the outside.
Teams that best acclimate to Freiermuth’s skillset
Freiermuth’s overall solidity makes him worthy of a first-round pick. Where he comes off the board more depends on how scouts will rank him in relation to his positional counterparts. Freiermuth best fits in a traditional tight end role, but he can also provide value for teams who favor more versatility at the position. In mid-to-late Round 1, teams like the Colts, Jaguars, and Jets serve as good fits. It’s also fun to imagine him in Buffalo, where he’d be a welcome target for Josh Allen. He also emanates the Bills Mafia mentality.
There is a chance that Freiermuth slips into Round 2, but he shouldn’t fall to Round 3. Early-to-mid Round 2 seems like his floor. In that range, teams like the Washington Football Team, Chargers, and Patriots could also adequately utilize his talents. Wherever he goes, however, Freiermuth should immediately serve as a solid safety blanket with additional upside. Teams value safety in prospects, and Freiermuth offers that in a crucial offensive role.