What to Do With the Steelers Tight Ends in 2021

May 17, 2021
What to Do With the Steelers Tight Ends in 2021

At pick No. 55 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Pat Freiermuth as their on-deck tight end of the future. Hailing from Penn State, Freiermuth has been given the nickname “Baby Gronk” by someone, but this is the only time you’ll see me use it because I feel we can do better as an industry.

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The rookie joins seven-year veteran Eric Ebron in the Steeler's tight end room, who's coming off a productive first season donning black and gold. Let’s take a look at how this addition should play out for fantasy purposes and when, if at all, to draft both of these tight ends.

Sure Hand Pat

That was a bad Cool Hand Luke pun in case you didn’t quite get it at first read. At Penn State, Freiermuth was as steady and dependable as they come, recording at least one catch in 29 straight contests, which was every game but his first as a Nittany Lion.

As a two-year captain, he only dropped three balls on 99 targets and spent his sophomore year as the team’s No. 2 pass-catcher behind K.J. Hamler, putting up an impressive 43-507-7 line. The next season, with Hamler in the NFL, Freiermuth was the aerial focus in the Penn State offense while on the field, catching 23 balls for 310 yards and a score in a shortened four-game season due to COVID-19 and a shoulder injury.

Freiermuth possesses the size and skills to be a productive tight end in the NFL, as his 6’5” frame creates mismatches for opposing defenses. While not the same type of tight end we’ve seen emerge in recent years that are more likely to be off the line of scrimmage, Freiermuth’s dual-threat ability as a blocker and pass catcher both inline and out of the slot makes him project as a viable NFL contributor.

Eric Ebron’s Pittsburgh Renaissance

Most people groan or spout out something about drops when Eric Ebron’s name is mentioned, but he was a legit fantasy asset last year. He was the TE15 in total half-PPR points and came in as TE18 in half-PPR points per game.

It’s no surprise that Ebron’s name appeared at the top of win rate columns on both FFPC and Bestball10s sites in 2020, as he outperformed his ADP in best ball formats and even in redraft leagues. Here’s a look at where the 28-year old’s win rate landed on those sites, along with his ADP in both Underdog’s Best Ball Mania I tournament and My Fantasy League redraft leagues.

Eric Ebron ADP & Win Rates, 2020
Site ADP Positional ADP Win Rate Rank Win Rate %
FFPC Non-Slim 12.04 TE21 10th 9.2%
FFCP Slim 12.03 TE21 2nd 12.3%
Bestball10s 14.05 TE21 5th 9.7%
Underdog Best Ball Mania 14.05 TE21
My Fantasy League 15.04 TE23

We can see that Ebron bested his ADP by six to eight positional spots in half-PPR formats, and he ended the season as TE13 in full-PPR scoring, which was eight or 10 TE spots higher than he was being drafted.

What Does it All Mean for 2021?

It’s not breaking news that rookie TEs struggle to make a significant fantasy impact in their first season as a pro. In fact, Evan Engram is the sole TE to post starting fantasy numbers during his rookie campaign going back to 2015. For a more detailed look at rookie TE production, check out my profile of fellow newbie Tommy Tremble.

The departure of Vance McDonald makes room for Freiermuth to compete for snaps in this offense, but the job is still Ebron’s—at least to start. What the rookie does have going for him is his blocking ability, something Ebron tends to struggle with, which could get Freiemuth on the field sooner than other rookies who are mostly pass-first tight ends. Snaps lead to opportunities, which can translate to fantasy production.

Last season the Steelers offense attempted the most passes in the NFL, posting the second-highest number of yards through the air and the sixth-most passing touchdowns. However, being the second-fiddle TE on an offense boasting Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool doesn’t leave much room for Freiermuth. We also can’t forget about rookie Najee Harris who is set up for a heavy workload in his first year in the league.

While he could be an exciting fantasy TE in the future—as early as 2022 with Ebron’s contract ending—Freiermuth is not someone to draft this year in redraft leagues. I’d probably stay away from Ebron as well in seasonal leagues, but he’ll most likely be a nice streamer throughout the season based on week-to-week matchups if you miss out on the top-tier TEs.

In best ball formats, Freiermuth could be used as a very inexpensive contrarian stack with QB Ben Roethlisberger, as his ADP in Underdog leagues is currently TE34 at 213.9. Meanwhile, Ebron is coming off Underdog boards as TE25 at 184.8, which is also a pretty nice value based on the offense’s tendency to air it out.

Bottom Line

  • Rookie TEs very rarely find success in their first year in the league, and Pat Freiermuth should be no exception.
  • Eric Ebron was low-key productive last season in this same Pittsburgh offense, and the starting job is his barring injury.
  • Neither of the Steelers’ TEs are great options for redraft or seasonal leagues, but at an Underdog ADP of 184.8, Eric Ebron has the potential to repeat last year’s appearance in best ball top win rates. He makes for a decent pairing if you’ve drafted a top-tier TE like Travis Kelce, Darren Waller or George Kittle, and want to load up on much-needed depth in the middle of the draft.
  • Pat Freiermuth’s Underdog ADP is much later (213.9), as it should be, but he could be an interesting last-round flier to complete a Pittsburgh stack if you’re feeling frisky.
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