The Pittsburgh Steelers will probably look to use tight end Pat Freiermuth in the slot more in 2023 after drafting big inline tight end Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Based on an analysis of Freiermuth’s play in 2022, that might be a very good thing for his already strong productivity.
According to research by Football Insights, Freiermuth averaged 2.28 receiving yards per route run when placed in the slot in 2022. That figure was the second-best in the NFL, second only to Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Travis Kelce, who averaged 2.5 yards per route run from the slot.
Of the most-used tight ends in 2022, only six were used in the slot less often that Freiermuth was, who played in the lost 38% of the time, and inline 57% of the time.
When used inline, Freiermuth averaged 1.46 yards per route run, which was more middle of the road. Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens was the best in the NFL with 2.85 yards per route run from an inline position.
Freiermuth finished sixth in the NFL among tight ends with 732 receiving yards in 2022, behind Kelce (1,338), T.J. Hockenson (914), Andrews (847), Evan Engram (766) and George Kittle (765).
Freiermuth ran 435 receiving routes last season in total. If his 248 inline snaps were converted to the slot, and he maintained his previous average, Freiermuth would have had an additional 203 receiving yards in 2022, which would have made him the second-most productive tight end in the NFL, at 935 receiving yards.
The addition of Washington, combine with the return of Zach Gentry, will give offensive coordinator Matt Canada two inline players that he can use to help free up Freiermuth for the slot.
“I think Pat’s a different type of tight end and those two guys,” Canada said after drafting Washington. “Zach and Darnell, are bigger, more blocking guys. Zach’s made some plays down the field and can catch the ball, but certainly Pat is more known for that, right? I mean, that’s why the tight end position, I think there’s probably two types, two or three in the game right now. I would say those are different types of players, but we think we can match them up pretty well.”