There will be a strong sense of Massachusetts pride when two of the top tight end prospects are selected in next week’s NFL draft.
Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, a Newburyport native and Brooks School graduate, as well as Boston College’s Hunter Long, an Exeter, N.H., native and Deerfield Academy graduate, are two of the leading options at their position.
While Florida’s Kyle Pitts is considered far and away the best prospect, Freiermuth has been projected in mock draftsto be next off the board, likely in the second round, with Long next to go in the third or fourth.
Freiermuth, who wears No. 87 because of former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, started four games as a junior last season before missing the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. In those four games, he caught 23 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown.
The limitations as a result of his injury have been a source of anxiety during the predraft process, Freiermuth said, but he is ahead of his original recovery timeline. Following Penn State’s pro day March 25, he estimated he was 2-3 weeks away from being fully cleared.
“I hate being the guy that misses stuff,” Freiermuth said. “Even in the workouts in offseason, where I had to miss the upper-body [reps] the first couple of weeks because I was recovering from my shoulder surgery, it was challenging.”
Freiermuth did not engage in any testing on pro day, but he did participate in individual drills.
“I think one of the big things is the misconception that I’m a one-speed route runner,” he said. “I think that’s completely false. I think I showed that I can accelerate and I can decelerate and stuff like that, just showing teams that I can do those double moves.”
Because of his size — 6 feet 5 inches, 251 pounds — and his reputation as a red-zone threat, Freiermuth has drawn comparisons to Gronkowski, with some even calling him “Baby Gronk.” Although he was a big fan of Gronkowski growing up, Freiermuth said he does not like the nickname, instead hoping to establish a name for himself.
He certainly has the potential to do so.
Freiermuth can play in-line or be flexed out. He can go long, with 19 of his 92 receptions generating a gain of 20 yards or more — including one for 74 yards. He brings toughness, often leveraging his big body and physicality for extra yards.
As a two-time captain at Penn State, Freiermuth owns the school record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end with 16, surpassing Mike Gesicki, who was drafted 42nd overall in 2018 by the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots showed some interest in Freiermuth early on in the predraft process, but their communication tapered off, which makes sense given the free agent acquisitions of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Regardless of his next stop, Freiermuth will maintain an enormous amount of Massachusetts pride. His football career took off at the Brooks School, where he earned several accolades and ranked as the state’s No. 2 recruiting prospect.
As a senior, Freiermuth turned in 26 receptions, 613 yards, and 7 touchdowns en route to a NEPSAC Class C Championship. He also was named NEPSAC Class C Player of the Year.
“I’m very thankful for the Brooks School and everything they’ve done,” Freiermuth said. “That’s kind of who I rep.”
Before transferring to the Brooks School after his sophomore year of high school, Freiermuth attended Pentucket Regional, another place he remembers fondly. He recently returned to his former stomping grounds in March to watch Pentucket take on Lynnfield in football.
At the conclusion of his pro day media availability, Freiermuth noticed a reporter from The Eagle-Tribune, his hometown newspaper, had his hand raised (virtually) but wasn’t called on during the news conference. Freiermuth, recognizing the name, decided to ask the Penn State staffer if that reporter could get in a question.
“I love Pentucket,” he said. “I love all the people there. I’m happy to rep them.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.