Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth better be ready for the national spotlight. The soon-to-be junior tight end will enter the 2021 NFL Draft cycle as arguably the top draft-eligible tight end after deciding not to enter the 2020 NFL Draft and return for perhaps one final run in Happy Valley. While he could very well have been a top-ranked tight end in this year’s class, there are also a lot of very good tight ends entering the NFL Draft in 2020. That may have factored into Freiermuth’s decision to return for his senior season as well as trying to improve his stock to even higher levels than it currently is.
Freiermuth’s career at Penn State
Freiermuth has only played two years at Penn State but would have been eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft after deciding to take a postgraduate year in Massachusetts, meaning he is three years removed from high school.
In those two seasons, Freiermuth has 69 receptions, which may not seem all that impressive, but it is what he achieved on those receptions that stands out. He averages 12.7 yards per reception for 875 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. That is a touchdown catch every 4.6 receptions and 1.67 games.
A favorable comparison
His college numbers and performances have earned Freiermuth a comparison that any young tight end would be flattered by. Being compared to Rob Gronkowski is the ultimate compliment for a tight end, and Freiermuth has been nicknamed ”Baby Gronk” by many in the draft community. Friermuth’s size, at 6’5″ and 256-pounds, and his ability to score touchdowns, is something that a lot of teams will covet in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, his versatility is also a big part of his value. Penn State head coach James Franklin knows the type of chess piece weapon he has in Freiermuth and utilizes him in a multitude of ways.
Take the game against Ohio State, for example. Penn State lined Freiermuth up in multiple spots. Some plays he lined up as the in-line tight end, while others he would set up in the wing. Take a look for yourself at the versatility in this game from Freiermuth.
Penn State can also use him in the flex position and even spread him out wide from time to time. Freiermuth has become the guy the Nittany Lions want to get in the best matchups possible. He is likely going to be their go-to guy in 2020, having been one of those guys in 2019 as well, alongside K.J. Hamler. Freiermuth finished second on the team among receivers in 2019, with 43 catches for 507 yards and seven touchdowns (Hamler had 56 catches, 904 yards, and eight touchdowns).
The 2021 NFL Draft cycle
There were not many tight ends that were expected to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft that decided to stay in school for one more year. This means that at least early on, there might not be too much competition for the early spot as the leader in the clubhouse at the position. BYU’s Matt Bushman could also be in the reckoning, but he will likely start the year behind Friermuth.
Former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, No. 42 overall to the Miami Dolphins, as the second tight end off the board, behind Hayden Hurst. Gesicki is still developing with the Dolphins but had a better sophomore season than his rookie season. Freiermuth appears to potentially be ahead of Gesicki at this point in their respective careers. Some may argue he’ll be what the Dolphins wanted Gesicki to be.
When you watch Freiermuth, you get the sense that he is going to play on Sundays and that feeling has been there since his arrival at Penn State. The “Baby Gronk” moniker might be a bit too extreme at this point, simply because of the level that Gronkowski played at being extremely hard to match. However, there’s no question Freiermuth has the size and ability to become one of the next top modern-day tight ends. As mentioned earlier, he just needs to get more consistent with his blocking and then he can really become an all-around tight end in the NFL.
Ironically given his nickname, in Neal Driscoll’s recent two-round 2021 mock draft, he had Freiermuth being drafted by the New England Patriots at No. 27 overall.
Additionally, Pro Football Network’s Matt Valdovinos took a look at the top tight ends in next year’s class and had this to say on Freiermuth:
“Pat Freiermuth is the most “basic” tight end of the bunch. He’s the only player that weighs in above 250 on this list, and he’s comfortably the best blocker of the trio. He’s also the most difficult to tackle head-on; the nickname “Baby Gronk” isn’t given to just anyone. Freiermuth is the most well-rounded tight end in the 2021 class, and he’ll look to dominate next season as the Nittany Lions’ #1 target.
Freiermuth has the easiest translation to the NFL of this group. His size lets him work as an in-line blocker, big slot, or even a boundary receiver. His blocking makes him an asset in the run game, and his athletic ability makes him a mismatch on passing opportunities. His size and strength are also evident on his yards after catch, when it takes what feels like three defenders to take him down.”