Everyone thought, and rightly so, that the Pittsburgh Steelers would go offensive line early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, in this rookie review, we find ourselves looking at a tight end and a running back. Don’t get me wrong, both were also areas of need for the organization. But, the offensive line was also an area of need.
For the Steelers though, they did manage to draft two excellent playmakers who were instant impacts in the offense. Pat Freiermuth ended up having a better season than the number one tight end taken, Kyle Pitts. As for Najee Harris, he went on to have one of the best Steelers rookie seasons ever. With year two just around the corner let’s take a look at how each player settled in and what they need to do in year two.
Rookie Review: Pat Freiermuth
Rollback the years and it is like Steelers legend Heath Miller is back playing in the black and gold. That was the impact that Freiermuth had. From day one the chants started to ring around Heinz Field as Muth became an instant red-zone threat. Just like Heath Miller was, Freiermuth turned into a safety blanket for retired Ben Roethlisberger.
Muth finished the season with 60 receptions for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. More than that though, he filled the role left behind by JuJu Smith Schuster and would convert on third down when the Steelers needed him to.
Freiermuth caught more than three-quarters of the passes thrown his way and only had a drop percentage of 2.5%. Security blanket confirmed.
In his own rookie season, Heath Miller posted 39 receptions for 459 yards and six touchdowns. The similarities are certainly there. Heath Miller would go on to be a Steelers legend and if Freiermuth can continue on this trajectory then he could surpass the great tight end.
Freiermuth In Year Two
After admitting that it took a lot of work to have the season that he did in Year One, Freiermuth is set to expand his role in Year Two. In an interview within the Steelers organization, Freiermuth stated that he wants to improve his in-line blocking and downfield receiving.
“I think I’m a pretty good blocker out in space. I need to be able to continue to have the coaches trust in me and have confidence and be able to move defensive ends in the run game.”
As for his downfield ability, he said:
“I think with the year I had teams are going to watch the short, intermediate routes with me. Those flat balls and curls and stuff like that. I definitely have to get a little more comfortable and be asked to run downfield more and run those deeper routes.”
In a season where it was difficult to watch the Steeler’s offense at times, Muth was a shining light. With a new Quarterback behind center in Year Two, his role as a security blanket will be just as valuable. While also looking to get downfield more. Freiermuth has the intangibles to have a similar impact as Rob Gronkowski has on the field. He just has to work on his route running whilst also being consistent when asked to block.
If Freiermuth can continue to get better, which we have no doubt, he could become one of the best Tight Ends in the league.
Rookie Review: Najee Harris
Has there ever been more of a bell-cow back in the NFL than Najee Harris in 2021? It had been two decades since a rookie led the NFL in touches. In came the Alabama product Najee Harris. Pittsburgh had Harris on the field the majority of the time and continued to turn to him. He finished his rookie season with 1667 scrimmage yards and ten total touchdowns (seven rushing and three receiving).
Harris did it all for the Steelers and despite only having 3.9 yards per attempt, every single yard was well earned. Defensively, the Steelers have TJ Watt who embodies what it is to be a Steeler. Offensively, the Steelers have Harris. On numerous occasions, he ran over defenders or threw them to the ground in Derrick Henry-type fashion.
Just like Freiermuth could, Harris could be counted on to pick up the needed yards to extend the drive or win a game. He did this in the second last game of the season against the Cleveland Browns. With a first down needed to secure a vital victory, Roethlisberger handed the ball off to Harris. In typical Harris fashion, he ran past everyone and not only secured the first down but put another touchdown on the board.
Harris In Year Two
Harris is going to continue to get a lot of work in Year Two and when asked what he wanted to improve on it was fairly simple:
“The main thing that’s sticking out I guess is me being more of a leader of the team. Me being more vocalized as a leader. My one year there, I found out what the Steeler way is.” Harris told Sirius XM Radio.
In the Steeler’s first year without either Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, or David DeCastro, they will need a leader. After our rookie review of Harris, he is primed to take over that role for the Black and Gold.