The Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of the most storied histories of any American Sports franchise. So many Hall of Famers and all-time players have worn the black and gold over the years, but not every position has had one of these legends. Sure Heath Miller was an awesome player and a classic Steeler, but Pittsburgh has never had a tight end come in and really light up the league at a truly elite level. And because of this, Pat Freiermuth has a chance to make some history sooner rather than later.
Freiermuth had what many would consider a good, not great, season last year. However, his 732 yards ranked 5th all-time in Steelers history for tight ends. It is actually Eric Green that holds the record with his 942 yards in 1993, and Heath Miller holds spots 2-4.
So as a sophomore, Freiermuth missed a game and was still hardly 200 yards away from setting the Steelers’ single-season receiving record. Let’s look at the biggest reason he might, and might not break this record over his time in Pittsburgh.
The Argument For: Freiermuth And The Offense Will Develop
Even with Freiermuth’s impressive yardage numbers in 2022, the Steelers on the whole ranked 24th in the league in passing yards. Not exactly the type of offense you’d expect records to be broken in.
However, it’s not often in the NFL that quarterbacks peak passing-wise in their rookie season where they don’t get the reins of the offense until halfway through the year. Whatever you think about Kenny Pickett, it’s likely you agree his best football is to come.
And same with tight ends, they don’t often peak in their second year at the age of just 24. Although there are some historical examples, Freiermuth hopefully will continue to improve and reach his high ceiling. He was used more as a red zone target in his rookie year, and Pittsburgh seemed to recognize that he was more than that last season. They should continue to let him be a playmaker in this offense. After all, he would only need a full season and less than ten yards more per game to break the very attainable record.
The Argument Against: The Volume Just Won’t Be There
While when written on paper 942 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, it is definitely for a tight end. Even in an NFL where teams are passing more than ever, that yardage mark would have ranked second in the league for tight ends, behind the historic Travis Kelce season.
It feels a lot easier to propose that Freiermuth will get an extra ten yards per game at some point in his career than it is to propose that he will be a top two or three tight end in the league. But that’s the reality of the situation, and what he will need to be to break this record.
And look at his targets last season. 98 targets place him top five in the league for tight ends last season. The Steelers added Allen Robinson and Darnell Washington to the target mix this year, and I would be surprised if either George Pickens or Jaylen Warren got fewer targets in their respective year twos. Is it really a safe bet for Freiermuth to get more than 98 targets this season, even if he improves?
And all this is without mentioning the injury concerns. Playing a full season as an NFL tight end is easier said than done, and Freiermuth has already been a little banged up in his career.
So what’s the verdict? I think it’s certainly possible, though far from a lock, for Freiermuth to break the record over the next few seasons. It still won’t lock in his spot as the greatest tight end in Steelers history, as that’s Heath Miller’s spot to lose, but history might be closer than you think.