Draft Preview: 'Baby Gronk' offers leadership, play-making at TE

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George Bremer, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·4 min read
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Apr. 9—For the record, Pat Freiermuth is not a fan of the "Baby Gronk" nickname.

It's a natural — if somewhat lazy — fit for the Massachusetts native who grew up watching New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski and tries to model aspects of his game. But it's not a perfect comparison.

At 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, Freiermuth is a field-stretching matchup nightmare like his idol. But there's still work to be done to match Gronk's consistency and ferocity as a blocker.

In truth, that's not much of a knock. Gronkowski's blend of skill, athleticism and physicality is unique and has made him one of the best to ever play tight end.

There's plenty in Freiermuth's game to project sustained NFL success as well. He's widely expected to be the second tight end selected in the NFL draft, behind only Florida's Kyle Pitts — a likely top-10 pick.

"Yeah, he's the total package," Penn State coach James Franklin told NFL Network of his star tight end. "He's a culture driver in your locker room, was unbelievably productive for us."

The latter comment provides a clue as to Freiermuth's potential fit with the Indianapolis Colts.

The team has made no secret this offseason of its desire to add a play-making tight end to the arsenal at new quarterback Carson Wentz's disposal. There have been long-standing rumors of interest in Wentz's former Philadelphia Eagles teammate Zach Ertz, but no trade has developed.

Freiermuth could offer a solution — especially if he's still on the board when the Colts' second-round pick rolls around at No. 54 overall.

He caught 92 passes for 1,185 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns during his career with the Nittany Lions. But his 2020 season was cut short by a torn anterior and posterior labrum in his right shoulder.

Freiermuth tried to play through the injury and managed to catch 23 passes for 310 yards and one score before shutting down in October.

"I'm very thankful for my shoulder injury kind of showing me what it's like to go through adversity and stuff," Freiermuth said during Penn State's pro day March 25. "That process was definitely anxious, but I'm happy that I did as good as I could do at pro day, and it was just a great day overall."

Freiermuth didn't go through testing at his pro day. So no 40-yard dash or vertical leap numbers are available.

But he did run routes and believes he was able to show teams the shoulder won't be a problem moving forward.

Freiermuth also believes he debunked at least one myth about his game.

"I think one of the big things is a misconception that I'm a one-speed route runner," he said. "I think that's completely false. I think I showed that (at the pro day) where I can accelerate and I can decelerate and cycle back. So I was kinda just showing teams that I can do those double-moves and stuff like that."

Freiermuth comes from an athletic background.

His father, John, was New Hampshire's Mr. Basketball in 1988 and is a long-time high school basketball coach.

His mother, Diane, was a long-time field hockey coach, and his brother, Tim, was an offensive lineman at Springfield College.

His uncle, Mike Foley, is a long-time football coach who most recently has coached the offensive line at UMass.

All of which has helped to form Freiermuth into something of a coach's dream.

"He played this year, again, when a lot of people were telling him to opt out," Franklin told NFL Network. "When the Big Ten canceled the season, he didn't want to do that. He's a total team guy — got an injury and played with an injury this year as well. So it just tells you the type of young man he is and the type of character he has and, again, (he's) a guy who's going to be able to do it a lot of different ways. Highly, highly productive."

In addition to Gronk, Freiermuth lists Kansas City Chiefs star Jason Kelce and San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle among other tight ends he studies.

But he puts just as much work into building relationships off the field.

Freiermuth said his fondest memories of his college days will be centered around celebrating wins in the locker room with his teammates and building friendships with them that will last a lifetime.

He plans to bring the same personality to the pros.

"I think I'm gonna bring consistency and being a leader in the locker room," Freiermuth said. "I think that all the teams have seen that I've been a two-time captain and most of the guys around Penn State have great things to say about me. So I'm gonna be that guy that is working it and always lifting his teammates up. They know they're gonna get everything from me, and that's 110% every practice and every day."