For as long Patrick John Freiermuth has been involved in sports, he has always been a prodigy.
At the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, Freiemuth excelled in both football and basketball. He was a star on the field, where he played at linebacker and tight end. To put this into perspective, in Brooks School's 92-year-history, they never produced an NFL player until Freiermuth. Yet it was his former head coach, Patrick Foley, who summarized it best by calling him "the best player ever at our school and arguably and conference".
Such a label can give us a small idea of how gifted an athlete Freiermuth was and continues to be.
As a true freshman, Freiermuth became one of 16 true freshmen to make their debut. In 13 games played, he finished with 358 yards on 26 receptions, with an average of 14.2 yards per reception. His eight receiving touchdowns ranked second among all FBS tight ends and led Big Ten tight ends. For his efforts that season, he was selected Freshman All-America by several publications, and honorable-mention All-Big Ten by coaches and media. In his sophomore, Freiermuth set career highs in receptions (43) and receiving touchdowns (507),
with seven receiving touchdowns in 13 games played. In addition to being named the team's Most Valuable Offensive Player, he was selected All-America second team by The Athletic. Despite only playing four games in his junior year, he still managed to produce 310 receiving yards on 23 receptions with one touchdown.
In just three seasons, Freiermuth had proved himself as one of the toughest and physically gifted tight ends in Penn State history. With the ability to beat opposing defenders with either physicality or athleticism, Freiermuth was often a difficult to neutralize. When viewing him on film, we can see all the elements to his game that should make him a matchup nightmare in the NFL.
Underrated Route Running
In general, Freiermuth is not the most dynamic route-runner, but he has the proper fundamentals that allows him to get separation. When watching on film, there are four following elements that make him effective in this aspect.
Plans his routes prior to releasing
Uses simple but effective releases
Varies speed when going in and out of breaks
Quickness in his feet
In short areas, his quickness can sometimes fool the opposition enough to create the separation needed to make catches. In this clip, Penn State's offense is showing a "trips right" formation with Freiermuth positioned at the outside slot position. The matchup in this sequence is the Michigan defensive backs in showing off-man coverage. Notice the release when the ball is snapped, he comes out showing an inside release, then executes a stutter step that freezes the defensive back before releasing outside. This detail in his route creates the separation needed to make this touchdown reception.
Making Combat Catches
In many ways, making combat catches is an artform. It requires more than raw strength; rather, there are aspects of skill and sheer desire needed to make these types of catches. All these qualities noted are part of what makes Freiermuth unique to all the tight ends in this year's Draft class.
In this sequence, we have Freiermuth position at the inside slot position on the right side. When the ball is snapped, Freiermuth executed what was supposed to be a seam route until he is met by an opposing Nebraska defender. He changed his route into a curl, which gave him the room needed to make the reception. The most important part happens at the end, when he takes a hard hit from one of the Cornhusker linebackers. When we talk about "completing the catch", maintaining possession is the most important part. Freiermuth, in this case, displays his ability to do so despite taking contact. This aspect of his game will take him far at the next level.
Run Blocking Abilities
The physical nature of Freiermuth's blocking is arguably what defines him as a player. Part of why the Pittsburgh Steelers were keen on drafting him as high as they did is because of the value he being as a pass or run blocker. When assessing an effective blocker, there are several details coaches look for; pad level, hand placement, dropping anchor (in pass protection), elbows placed inside, sinking the hips and driving (when run blocking), and area awareness.
In this sequence, Freiermuth is seen at his traditional tight end spot. When the ball is snapped, both he and the Nittany Lions left tackle converge on the Cornhuskers defensive end. Once he is sealed, Freiermuth makes his way to the second level and takes the Cornhusker linebacker out of the play, resulting in big hole for the Nittany Lions running back to go through. Notice Freiemuth's technique as he uses a low pad level and proper hand placement; his feet then does rest as he dominates the linebacker on this play.
Though it may not seem useful to compare him to a tight end as great as Rob Gronkowski, his size, athleticism, blocking ability and offensive upside can easily give any analyst that impression, hence his nickname "Baby Gronk". Even with Eric Ebron on the roster, Freiermuth gives the Steelers another weapon they can use in improving their run offense while providing the type of offense that can confuse opposing defenses. With everything that he brings to the table, one should not be surprised if he becomes an instant impact player.