2023 NFL Draft

Evaluating the Value: Georgia TE Darnell Washington

The pick is in.

The 2023 NFL Draft is Omar Khan’s first year as the general manager and like in past years we evaluate the value of each pick. Based on projections for each player by draft outlets as well as our own reports we want to see if the pick’s value is above or below how they were ranked coming into the draft.

Round 3 (Pick 93) – Darnell Washington TE Georgia

The desire to run the ball was evident in the second half of last season. The number of two- and three-tight end sets both increased after the bye week and the results were positive. The Steelers have made improvement to the offensive line and they brought back Zach Gentry, a blocking tight end. Now they add another Georgia player in massive tight end Darnell Washington.

Daniel Jeremiah had him ranked 33rd in his Top 150 and the number three tight end on his board. Jeremiah had this to say, “A traditional in-line tight end, Washington is a massive physical specimen with outstanding play strength and toughness. He can power through press coverage with upper-body strength. He uses his long stride to build speed down the seam and provides an enormous target for his QB. He is a little clunky getting out of breaks, which limits his separation. However, it doesn’t really matter because he can use his big body to shield off defenders. He has some “wow” contested catches where opponents just bounce off his frame. After the catch, he is shockingly fast and nimble (see: the hurdle vs. Oregon). He is a dominant run blocker, as he latches onto and displaces defensive ends with ease. Overall, Washington has tremendous value because he functions as a sixth offensive lineman in the run game and he’s a moving billboard in the passing game.”

Lance Zierlein at NFL.com gave Washington a 6.38 grade (eventually will be a plus starter) and ranked him 37th overall. His profile states, “In-line tight end with rare size and power at the point of attack to help soften defensive edges up front. Despite sloppy overall technique, Washington can be effective at moving defenders when he’s centered on his block. He must improve his footwork and hand usage, as NFL defenders will slip away from his clutches more easily if he’s unsound. He plods into his routes but catches with above-average focus and can be a handful to bring down. Washington could become a dominant run blocker with better technique, which makes me wonder if a team might give him a look at offensive tackle at some point in his career.” The comp for him was Darren Fells.

Dane Brugler had him 30th overall on his Top 100 in his draft guide, The Beast. Washington was listed at number four in the talented tight end group. He was given a 1st or 2nd round prediction, and he opined, “A three-year starter at Georgia, Washington was a traditional Y tight end in offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s offense, lining up primarily inline (66.2 percent) over his career. His college receiving stats (45 catches in 36 games) look more like single-season production as he was underutilized as a pass catcher, primarily because of Bowers’ impact and Washington’s value as a sixth offensive lineman. The leanest 270ish pounds I have ever seen on a football field, Washington executes different kinds of blocks with his athletic range and the physical hands to control, drive and steer defenders. As a receiver, he gives his quarterback a massive catching target and swallows the football, although his long legs can get tied up on redirection routes or when making sharp cuts out of breaks. Overall, Washington will need time to mature in areas, but he offers a unique set of skills to be a weapon as an NFL blocker as he continues to ascend as a pass catcher, especially in the red zone. He is a one-of-one talent with fascinating pro potential because of his rare length, play strength and body flexibility at his size.

CBSSports.com had Washington 35th player on its board, the number three tight end overall and a prediction to be a long-term starter. Their profile described him as, “a jumbo tight end who excels as an in-line blocker and a chain mover. His size and catch radius make him a difficult matchup in contested situations, but his production has been limited. His value lies with his ability to block on the edge, and that could make him more enticing to a team that runs more outside zone.” They compared him to Marcedes Lewis.

Our profile on Washington by Jacob Harrison had a second-round grade on him and had this to say, “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.” Harrison finished by saying, “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.”

This pick will make a lot of fans happy. Washington was a popular name in the last few weeks but more often talked about as a second-round pick. Some considered him the best blocking tight end in the draft, essentially another lineman, and he will be an asset in the running game. His passing game production was curtailed in college by the presence of standout teammate Brock Bowers, who won the John Mackey Award (given to the top tight end in the country) in 2022, but his athleticism and size can truly be a weapon. The NFL Network broadcast talked about some teams being concerned about his knee so there is some risk, but it is worth the reward if Washington remains healthy. Omar Khan is killing it in his first draft as this pick gets my third very good value grade out of four picks.

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