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NFL Draft

TDN100: Pounding The Table For Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth

  • The Draft Network
  • October 28, 2020
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The title of TE1 in the 2021 NFL Draft is completely up for grabs. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single college football player who has done more with his opportunities thus far this fall than Florida tight end Kyle Pitts—he's on a scorching-hot pace. And if you end up fancying him as your top tight end for next April, I won't argue with you. But if you gave me the chance to pound the table for any individual tight end prospect eligible for next spring's 2021 NFL Draft, my choice would not be Pitts. It would instead be Penn State's Pat Freiermuth.

Freiermuth checks in at No. 14 overall on the latest update to the TDN100, which honors the best prospects that college football has to offer. The Penn State product hasn't had the reps Pitts has to this point in the season yet—and based on the play of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the season-opening loss to Indiana, Freiermuth may not stand a chance to keep pace with Pitts' eye-popping numbers. But even if he doesn't, his ability to fill certain roles makes him a potential terror as an offensive weapon.

Athletic tight ends are all the rage in today's NFL. Why? Because their size and physicality creates a highly uncomfortable proposition for opposing defenses. Do you match their presence with coverage abilities and hope they don't run the football? Or do you put a linebacker over them and hope for the best if the offense comes out play-action passing. And that's the ultimate conflict that Freiermuth can afford an offense.

One of the reasons why San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle broke the tight end market the way he did thanks to a five-year, $75M contract extension this summer is because Kittle is an elite asset as both a run-blocker and a pass-catcher. I think Freiermuth, even if he never reaches the levels of elite we've seen established from Kittle, can serve the same role in an offense. And as NFL defenses try to wrangle with countering personnel groupings, a player like Freiermuth becomes a schematic nightmare because he's just as able and likely to line up isolated to the boundary as a receiver as he is to drop his hand in the dirt and block down on a defensive end.

When you hear coaches talk about being "multiple" on offense, players like Freiermuth embody what they're talking about. Pitts isn't a bad blocker by any stretch. He's viable contesting the line of scrimmage and he's also more fluid and explosive than Freiermuth as a pure athlete in space. But at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, he's more of an Evan Engram-type build. That creates massive advantages as a receiver, but defensive ends and physical defenders in the box stand a stronger chance of derailing his reps in tight quarters. And the argument could be made that playing a player of Pitts' caliber in the box with his hand in the dirt actually does him a disservice—not dissimilar to how Mike Gesicki was utilized at Penn State before becoming a top-50 pick at the position with one of the most prolific combine performances we've ever seen.

Gesicki spent that 2018 rookie season in Miami with his hand in the dirt and the Dolphins asked him to pass block on one out of every five reps his rookie year. You'll be stunned to hear that Gesicki, who is lean and was only an adequate blocker at the Big Ten level, was not good there as a rookie. These days? Gesicki lives detached from the formation and is effectively a big slot who occasionally gets isolated reps on the boundary. That's the same role usage and future I envision for Pitts.

And while that's a killer role (one that may even command the TE1 title in the right offense), it isn't the role I personally will pound the table for. That's reserved for the tight end who puts opposing coaches and players in the most conflict. How many potential boxes can you check at the NFL's newest "chess piece" position? I believe Freiermuth checks the most between his run-blocking, pass-blocking, red-zone receiving, route-running, hands, yards after catch ability and his ability to execute from the slot, from the 'Y' alignment, and from an isolated alignment outside. And because of that, he'll be the tight end prospect who I end up pounding the table for.

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