May 1—When Pat Freiermuth’s phone rang Friday night, he didn’t know what to think.
A New England native whose spent the past three years at Penn State, he’s encountered too many people from Pittsburgh to know exactly which of his buddies to trust.
“When I saw that 412 area code, I thought it was one of my friends from Penn State pranking me,” Freiermuth said. “But I answered the phone, and it was coach (Mike) Tomlin and it was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had.”
Five years after Heath Miller retired, the Pittsburgh Steelers made their most aggressive move yet toward replacing him by taking Freiermuth with their second-round pick Friday evening.
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Freiermuth, the 55th overall pick, was the second tight end selected in the draft, coming 51 picks after the Atlanta Falcons took Florida’s Kyle Pitts at No. 4.
The Penn State record-holder for career touchdown receptions by a tight end (16), Freiermuth had 92 career catches for 1,185 yards in only 30 games.
“He’s kind of a throwback tight end,” new Steelers tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said. “His positional flexibility gives us a chance to do a lot of different things in a lot of different sets.”
Freiermuth was limited to four games in 2020 because of a shoulder injury, but his draft stock likely was improved by declining to “opt out” of the season because of coronavirus concerns, something many high-profile prospects did.
Freiermuth said his shoulder was “fully healthy,” and that he recently had been cleared for “everything … full contact.”
The surgery he underwent in the fall perhaps dropped Freiermuth from the possible late-first round pick he had been projected to be because of his size, college production and athleticism.
“He’s the total package,” Penn State coach James Franklin told NFL Network. “He’s a culture driver in your locker room, was unbelievably productive for us.”
Freiermuth is the 12th Penn State tight end drafted in the first five rounds since Montour High School’s Ted Kwalick went seventh overall in first round to the San Francisco 49ers in 1969.
Freiermuth caught at least one pass in each of his final 29 games played, another PSU record among tight ends. The streak began Sept. 8, 2018, against Pitt, when he was a freshman. Freiermuth is only the seventh Penn State tight end to gain 1,000 receiving yards, a figure boosted by 19 receptions of 20 or more yards.
Roberts said Freiermuth’s skillset is such that the Steelers envision using him not only “in line” but in the backfield or flexed out wide.
“I see myself as going out there and doing whatever’s asked of me,” Freiermuth said, adding that he “hit it off” with Tomlin, Roberts and general manager Kevin Colbert at Penn State’s Pro Day in March.
“I think what they liked about me most meeting with me was I’m willing to do anything, and I made that evident during my time at Penn State. If they tell to me go out and block the whole game, I’m going to do that. I think they’ll move me around in the offense and create mismatches.”
As the Steelers went on the clock in the second round, many speculated they would choose between a pair of centers widely regarded as second-round picks: Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey and Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz. But the Steelers went tight end. They took one from Penn State for the second time in seven years, selecting Jesse James in the fifth round in 2015.
James took over as the starter for Miller, who spent 11 seasons with the Steelers and won the Super Bowl twice, but during training camp 2017 the Steelers traded for Vance McDonald and made him their starter.
McDonald retired in January, leaving only Eric Ebron with any significant NFL experience at the position. Ebron is considered a fabulous receiving tight end, but his blocking is subpar. Freiermuth is considered NFL-quality at blocking and receiving.
“I’m excited to work with him,” Roberts said. “Just the energy he exudes, he’s a serious but fun guy.
“I like what he adds right now and what he’s going to grow into in the future.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .