NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the 16th in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
As we saw in last season's Super Bowl between the Chiefs (Travis Kelce) and 49ers (George Kittle), the most successful teams in today's NFL tend to have a tight end who performs at a Pro Bowl level. The good news for squads still searching for that missing piece at the position is that there's plenty of talent in the pipeline. I highlighted one such player earlier in this series (Florida's Kyle Pitts), and today I'm taking a look at another tight end with the potential to become a quarterback's best friend once he enters the league. Here's my scouting report on Penn State junior Pat Freiermuth.
Height, weight: 6-foot-5, 259 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 43 catches for 507 yards (11.8 average) and seven touchdowns.
Game tape watched: Michigan State (Oct. 26, 2019), Minnesota (Nov. 9, 2019), Ohio State (Nov. 23, 2019).
What I liked: Freiermuth has an ideal build for the position. He has a big, thick frame and plays to that size in the passing game. Penn State moves him around the formation -- he collects snaps with his hand on the ground, flexed in the slot and split out wide. He's at his best working in the middle of the field. He uses an arch release to avoid getting jammed at the line of scrimmage and presents a big target to the quarterback down the seam.
Freiermuth isn't an explosive route runner, but he has subtle quickness at the top of his route to create some separation. He also has a good feel for working and settling in zones. He has outstanding hands. He takes some big shots at the catch point and still manages to hold on to the ball. He has a big catch radius and his concentration is superb.
Freiermuth's also very effective after the catch because of his physicality. He pinballs off tacklers. He aggressively attacks safeties and lowers his shoulder to power through tackles when he has a runway. He's effective as a back-side run blocker, too. He takes proper angles and shields off defenders long enough to get the job done.
Where he needs to improve: Freiermuth needs to improve in the run game. He survives on the back side, but he really struggles as a front-side run blocker. He gathers and pauses on contact instead of running his feet and creating some knock-back on his defender. This allows opponents to quickly shed his block and get involved in the play.
He's not as explosive as former Penn State TE Mike Gesicki, a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2018. If you're looking for that type of speed or athleticism from Freiermuth, I think you'll be disappointed. I haven't watched him play in person, but I am curious to see if he could gain some extra juice by losing a little bit of weight. That isn't a big deal, though. He can still have a long, successful pro career with the tools he possesses.
Biggest takeaway: I'll use this analogy since baseball season is underway: Good tight ends are like good closers. They are reliable! Freiermuth doesn't come with all of the bells and whistles of some of the other top tight ends we've seen over the last handful of NFL drafts. However, when it's third-and-6, you can count on him walling off his defender, attacking the ball and holding on through contact. That's why his offensive coordinator and quarterback are going to love him at the next level.
He reminds me of: Freiermuth reminds me of Hunter Henry coming out of Arkansas. Both guys were good athletes, but they weren't ultra-twitched up and explosive. Henry was better as a run blocker, but they share similar route-running savvy and football instincts. They have strong, reliable hands and they are outstanding options on third down and in the red zone. Henry has emerged as one of the premier TEs in the AFC. He received the franchise tag from the Chargers this offseason and is due to collect a big payday next offseason. Freiermuth has some work to do to get to that level, but it is attainable.