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If Steelers’ Pat Freiermuth Is The Next Heath Miller, Could That Mean A Sophomore Slump Is Inevitable in 2022?

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If Steelers’ Pat Freiermuth Is The Next Heath Miller, Could That Mean A Sophomore Slump Is Inevitable in 2022?

The Pittsburgh Steelers were questioned when they drafted tight end Pat Freiermuth while centers like Creed Humphrey were still on the board. Freiermuth made those critics eat those words. He had a stellar rookie season and cemented himself as not just one of the best young prospects on the team, but the entire league.

Now that Freiermuth is on the map and plays for the Steelers, the natural comparison and question has begun to arise; is Freiermuth the next Heath Miller? Well, there’s a lot to unpack there.

Steelers Pat Freiermuth

Jan 16, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the second half in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

As far as the receiving game goes, I truly believe Freiermuth is on his way to being as good as Miller, and potentially even more prolific in today’s NFL. The tight end is being more and more heavily utilized as a receiver, and is a constant mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs basically always. It’s hard to see Freiermuth’s rookie year and not be encouraged to think that he can’t be one of those elite TE1’s and an eventual Pro Bowl caliber player.

Miller always had that pedigree and had sure hands, but was in a run first offense most of his career. By the time Ben Roethlisberger really started to come into his own as a high flying quarterback and among the league’s elite as a passer, Miller was on the back end of his career, but still effective.

Steelers Heath Miller

Former Steelers Tight End Heath Miller (PC: Podcast Network)

Miller’s rookie year was similar to that of Freiermuth’s. Let’s take a look at their side to side comparison per Pro Football Reference:

Miller:

39 receptions. 459 receiving yards. 6 receiving touchdowns.

Freiermurth:

60 receptions. 497 receiving yards. 7 receiving touchdowns.

Pretty similar. Freiermuth had more receptions and touchdowns. However, Miller’s yards per catch were clearly much better at 11.8 compared to Freiermuth’s 8.3. Miller was also a superior blocker, but Freiermuth’s blocking came on more towards the end of his rookie campaign. He also admitted to being physically worn out due to the rookie wall during this year’s OTA’s. He spoke on is performance, and felt although it was good, it could definitely improve. He cited his yards per catch specifically as something he would like to see get better going into year two.

Again. A lot of natural comparison has happened as Freiermuth easily has the most potential of any tight end to play for the Steelers since Miller retired, breaking Miller’s rookie tight end records. However, if he truly is the next “Heaaathh,” that may not be a great omen for his sophomore campaign.

Miller’s Sophomore Slump

Miller followed up his stellar rookie campaign with not just a sophomore slump, but one if not the worst year of his career. He saw significant drops in both his receptions and his receiving yards, going from 39 to 34 receptions, and from 459 yards to 393, respectively. His touchdown total also dropped from 6 to 5. The team as a whole was in a bit of a slump, as they were the defending champions that year, and went on to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Again, it wasn’t a huge drop off, but a slump nonetheless.

Freiermuth is in bit of a different situation than Miller was going into year two. Miller was with an established team that was fresh off a championship run with a young Roethlisberger in his prime. Freiermuth is in an offense that is somewhat new, even though it’s his second year under offensive coordinator, Matt Canada. The offense is going to look different now that the Steelers have the mobility at the quarterback position that they lacked last year in an aging Roethlisberger. He figures to be a focal point in a young and talented offense. If I had to guess, a slump is probably the least likely of the two scenarios.

 

But, what if Freiermuth does slump?

Easy answer. Don’t panic. Again the Steelers are basically treading in unknown waters. This is their first season without Roethlisberger as the starter since 2004. There’s going to be some growing pains. The offense is likely to lean heavily on Najee Harris and the run game to open things up for projected starter Mitch Trubisky. Similar to how things were for a young Roethlisberger before he really found his niche as a prolific pocket passer.

Another obvious reason to not worry, if Freiermuth is the next Miller, a sophomore slump is merely a bump in the road. Miller went on to become not only the most prolific tight end in Steelers history, but one of the most prolific pass catchers in general. His 6,569 yards are fourth all-time in Steelers receiving history. His 45 touchdowns are also 5th all-time in Steelers history.

 

Freiermuth is likely just trying to be the best version of himself, but chasing Miller’s prolific career numbers isn’t a bad way to motivate himself. He surely has a long way to go to try and reach that kind of success. However, the future does look bright, and regardless of a sophomore slump or not, I believe big things are in store for this young, talented tight end.

#SteelerNation

Lifelong Steeler fan from Long Island, NY . Bleed black and gold. Love sports discussions and giving my opinion, especially when it comes to the Steelers. Follow me on twitter @SeanPMcGeown! Here We Go Steelers!

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