From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Georgia TE Darnell Washington.
#0 Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia (JR) – 6070, 270LBS
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Darnell Washington||6’7 270lbs||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— High-level blocking tight end
— Accurate in space tracking down defenders at the second level
— Monstrous frame; does not get bullied at the POA
— Wrecking ball runner after the catch
— Not a burner, but is deceptively fast in a straight line
— Catches the ball comfortably with his hands
— Bullies defenders in jump ball situations, high-pointing the ball
— Capable in pass blocking situations, showing strength for interior linemen and agility for edge rushers
— Low production as a receiver
— Limited route tree
— Doesn’t display lower-body fluidity to cut clean breaks in his routes
— Doesn’t create much separation against man coverage, needs to use his body to combat defenders better
— Struggles as a run blocker stem from playing in front of his toes or being too slow with his hands, allowing defenders to get into his frame first
— Slow to accelerate down field
— Birthday: August 17, 2001 (21 years old)
— Five-star prospect from Nevada
— Two-sport athlete in high school, averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds in basketball
— Health & Physical Education major
— Career stats: 45 receptions for 774 yards and three touchdowns
It’s not hard to miss Darnell Washington when you turn on the tape, that’s for sure. The guy wearing No. 0 for the Bulldogs appears to fit his billed 6’7-270lb frame through the screen.
As such, it’s no surprise that Washington draws attention for his blocking prowess. Luckily for those intrigued, it’s not a fluke of him simply being bigger than the opposition. Sure, he’s practically a 6th offensive lineman on run plays, but he has solid technique and a keen awareness of how to adjust his assignments as the play develops.
Where he really caught my eye was his blocking in space. It’d be easy to expect him to lumber about in this arena, but instead, he’s quite calculated in tracking his target and dismissing him from the play.
Two examples here, the first against Florida and the second against Missouri. The first sees Washington sweep to the outside and wall off the safety from interfering with the runner’s stride to the first down marker. The second is a swing route for the back. Washington bursts off the snap, latches onto the linebacker with strong hands and drives him a good seven yards downfield while keeping himself between the runner and defender.
Now, while Washington is likely the best blocker in this draft class, he isn’t perfect. In the trenches he can lean a bit in double-team situations, making it difficult for him to transition to a second defender. He also can be a bit slower off the ball than the man across from him, allowing defenders to put their hands on his frame, forcing Washington’s outside and preventing him from securing control.
Two examples here, the first against Florida and the second against Missouri. The first play does go away from Washington, but it’s one of the few times he gets pushed back and it’s because he was late to the POA – granted he does gather and recover a bit before the defender disengages to chase. The second clip is more of a stalemate initially, however, as Washington is late to the POA with hands outside and a high pad level, allowing the defender to shed him and get in on the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
He wasn’t asked to pass block much in the four games I watched, but he does appear comfortable in that role for short bursts. He is a tight end, he isn’t going to go one on one with Myles Garrett, but he can help and he can work well against lesser talents at the next level.
Here are two examples against the Gators. In the first clip, Washington crosses formation, tracks down the edge rusher and mirrors his attempts to get into the backfield allowing Washington to hold ground near the line of scrimmage. The second clip is against a thicker interior rusher. While Washington does give up ground, he controls the power from the defender and holds contain beyond the release of the football.
As a receiver, he can be much more fruitful than his stats indicate. Keep in mind the Bulldogs employ Brock Bowers as a receiving threat at the position and he’s likely a first-round pick in next year’s draft. Still, the difference between the two is stark for obvious and valid reasons.
All in all, Washington is going to be limited and likely won’t develop into the next Rob Gronkowski if we’re being honest. Regardless, what he does well is what you would expect. He does his best work on fast-developing plays designed for him where he can put the ball in his hands quickly and punish a few defenders after the catch as he pushes upfield. A clear example is in the next clip against the Gators.
He’s also an excellent redzone option. He doesn’t waste an inch of his frame when going up for 50-50 passes. Watch here as Washington posterizes Henry To’oTo’o in the 2021 SEC Championship Game for a touchdown. It’s almost laughably unfair.
His jump ball abilities are useful between the 20s as well though. Georgia liked to send him on wheel routes and dial up this back shoulder fade which is executed to near perfection here against Missouri. Peep the hurdle at the end. Dude’s an athlete.
Here’s another example of the wheel route against Florida that shows him with a bit more giddy-up in his gallop. He doesn’t come away with this one, one of only two unforced drops I noticed in the four games I watched.
He’s faster than you may expect, but don’t let that play swoon you too much. His biggest hurdle as a receiver will be his limitations as a route runner and his struggles to create separation against man coverage. Back against Alabama, he’s got a simple drag (or at least I hope it’s not an in-route) but he fails to deter Christian Harris off his path whatsoever. As he crosses the field, Harris stays on his hip. This is a rather regular occurrence for Washington.
The bulk of the routes I saw from Washington were simple drags and flats, the wheel route (a lot), 5-yard digs with a corner, a slant and a labored zig route mixed in. He’s got to diversify his tree to be a No. 1 tight end in the NFL.
Darnell Washington is a tough prospect because he’ll grade really high, but his value to the position won’t match up with his grading. He’ll likely be in the top-32 of a handful of big boards and still be available deep into the second round of the draft. Still, for teams that need his expertise on the edge of its run game, he’s about as good as it’s going to get in this age of tight ends.
As for the Steelers, it’s unknown to this point if they’ll need a Darnell Washington. Of course, if Zach Gentry isn’t re-signed, Darnell Washington will be on many fans’ radars. But then again, another second-round pick on a tight end to purely be a blocker behind Pat Freiermuth? That’s not a luxury that makes a lot of sense for Pittsburgh given its needs. Maybe in the third round, but that feels like a true longshot possibility.
If Gentry is brought back as expected though, it’s all a moot conversation.
Bottom line, Washington is set up to be a useful piece for most offenses in the NFL, though it will take some time for him to develop into a true No. 1 option at the position if his athletic profile can even allow for it.
Projection: Second Round
Depot Draft Grade: 8.5 2nd Round – Future Quality Starter
Games Watched: Alabama (SEC CG) ‘21, Missouri ‘22, Florida ‘22, Miss. St. ‘22