2023 NFL Draft

If Georgia TE Darnell Washington Can’t Be A Steeler, Fingers Crossed He’s Not In The AFC North

Barring a transformation in offensive philosophy and scheme, odds are low the Pittsburgh Steelers will be in the early-round market for a tight end. They have their guy in Pat Freiermuth, a 2021 second round pick. So while Georgia’s Darnell Washington is something of a dream pick, hopefully it doesn’t become a nightmare should he land elsewhere in the AFC North.

As has been a theme throughout the weekend, Washington had one of the top workouts in recent memory for his position. Already a talented prospect with great tape, Washington had one of the best days in Combine history, a 9.90 RAS score that’s 11th best among TEs since 1987.

Aside from a poor vertical, he’s elite in all other areas. Over 6’6 and 264 pounds, he ran a 4.64 40, a mark that bettered a handful of wide receivers. Even his short shuttle was a tremendous figure at 4.08, a number that was better than all but one corner at this year’s Combine. Only Kansas State’s Julius Brents had a better time, a 4.05.

What makes Washington unique is his beefy frame, blocking ability, and explosiveness. He isn’t a raw prospect, a small schooler, or a tweener. He’s an in-line tight end with burst and a headache to try and tackle. Washington’s also a dominant blocker with the demeanor to match his size. The blocking sled drill often trips up most prospects, reminding teams the uber-athletic guys are often glorified receivers, but Washington made quick work of it in drills. Watch him here.

Most tight ends rise on contact, have their feet pumping a million miles an hour to try and generate power, and look labored to move the sled. Washington? A Saturday stroll, making it look easy. I’ve never seen a tight end do that in this drill before.

How about on-field workouts? Judging these guys on air is difficult and often taken with a grain of salt. But Washington had the play of the day with this one-handed grab, showing off his catch radius and athleticism. And if you’re in the comments to debate if this was actually a catch, you’re missing the point.

This year’s tight end class is loaded, as strong of a group as there’s been in years. Washington isn’t guaranteed to be the first tight end off the board, Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Utah’s Dalton Kincaid are battling him, but it’s easy to make the case for Washington. There’s some flaws in his game, needing to be a bit more refined as a route runner and consistently catching the ball, but he’s a rare bird for the position.

So if Pittsburgh isn’t going to take him, seeing him land elsewhere in the North is going to be a problem. And it could happen. Washington feels like a perfect fit for the Baltimore Ravens’ offense and he could be the team’s target at #22. New OC Todd Monken coached him at Georgia, an easy dot to connect. If QB Lamar Jackson is traded, he’ll give the Ravens at least one additional first rounder this year. The good news is the Cleveland Browns don’t pick in the top two rounds but the Cincinnati Bengals are sitting at #28, potentially adding another weapon for QB Joe Burrow with starting TE Hayden Hurst set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Facing a guy like Washington twice a year for the next 5+ years isn’t my definition of a good time. A road grader in the run game, a coverage aggravation for Steelers’ linebackers, safeties, and anyone who has to tackle him. If he doesn’t end up in Pittsburgh, the next-best thing is for him to end up in the NFC, on the West Coast, where he only has to be dealt with twice a decade. Because he’s going to be a good one.

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