The Pittsburgh Steelers walked away from the 2023 NFL Draft with an impressive haul, landing value at nearly every selection. Possibly the “biggest” value selection Pittsburgh made over the weekend was none other than Georgia TE Darnell Washington. For many draft analysts, including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, the third-round selection of Washington, at #93 overall, was widely viewed as Pittsburgh’s best pick during draft weekend with the Steelers nabbing a player many expected to be a top-50 lock prior to getting a medical flag at the Combine due to knee swelling. Washington is healthy heading into rookie OTAs, and gives Pittsburgh a unicorn-type of player at the position.
The 6’7, 264-lb Washington is a giant on the football field, towering over the rest of the competition. His size makes him a legit red zone weapon and viable jump ball receiver, but pass catching isn’t what Washington is known for. While in a run-heavy offensive attack at Georgia, Washington famously nicknamed himself “The Sixth Lineman” due to his strengths as a blocker. He can easily get mistaken for a leaner offensive tackle thanks to his sheer size, strength, and power. Today, I will be breaking down exactly what Washington brings to the Steelers as a blocker.
Washington has the frame you want in the NFL for a tight end. He stands over 6’7 and possesses 34 3/8” arms and 11” hands, having the size and length to dwarf most players at his position. Those measurables show up in how he plays the game as a blocker, imposing his will on defenders as he overwhelms them with size and power. Take a look at this two-play sequence. Washington long arms a defender out in space in the first clip then comes across the LOS in the second clip to toss a defender to the ground, allowing the runner to get into the end zone for the score.
One thing you notice quickly when watching Washington is that he is an aggressive blocker who plays with a mean streak. He knows he is bigger and stronger than his competition and he looks to exploit that on the football field Watch this clip against Oregon. Washington picks up the defender on the edge of the LOS and keeps blocking as the ball carrier runs off his backside, finishing the defender to the ground for the pancake block. Washington’s hand placement can be better as he gets one hand outside and the other wrapped around the defender’s back, but we see that finishing mentality on this play.
Washington is an effective blocker in space, having the size and length to pick up pursuing defenders in the open field as well as the athleticism to get a body on a man. Watch this toss play to the left. Washington gets out in space against the Oregon Ducks, finding the first ugly, as we like to say, and violently chucking him to the ground while finishing on top of him.
Here are a couple more examples of Washington working out in space as a blocker. The first clip shows Washington lining up at H-back, and he runs to the corner and puts him on his back. The second clip shows Washington lining up in the slot as a receiver, running his defender down the field as the receiver on the swing pass gets the first down.
If you want to see Washington’s skill as a blocker in the open field, take a look at this rep against South Carolina. He gets on a defender on a swing pass to the left and turns the defender away from the ball, creating a seal for the runner to go off his backside to move the sticks.
While an accomplished blocker out in space, Washington has no problem going against bigger D-linemen as an in-line blocker. He is a devastating down blocker, using his length and power to get his arms on edge defenders and he extends his arms and washes them down the line. Here are a couple of clips of Washington doing just that on the edge with the first showing a great rep against #3 overall pick EDGE Will Anderson Jr. Washington displaces Anderson immediately after the snap and proceeds to take him out of the play to clear a running lane against the top edge in this draft class.
Here’s a play from the same game in the 2022 national championship game. Washington down blocks Anderson, sealing him off and taking him out of the play as the Bulldogs look to exploit the edge of the Crimson Tide defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers want to play bully ball on offense in 2023, and TE Darnell Washington may be the biggest bully in the yard. Washington, teaming up with former UGA teammate Broderick Jones, gives the Steelers two big, mean, athletic blockers who have gotten the job done at a high level for the two-time defending national champions.
Washington has the freakish size, play strength, and aggressive demeanor to become one of the NFL’s the best-blocking TEs relatively quickly. He can make blocks in space, opening up Pittsburgh’s outside running game as well as providing a far superior blocker on swing passes and quick screens than the Steelers have had. Washington also essentially fills the sixth OL role for the team’s heavy personnel, giving the Steelers a receiving threat in the passing game that opposing teams must account for while still being an effective blocker who can handle base DEs and standup OLBs on the edge.
He needs to improve the consistency of his hand placement as well as sustaining blocks, but there is a lot to like regarding Washington as a blocker. Should he stay healthy, Washington will provide a new element to Pittsburgh’s running game, giving the Steelers a physical specimen who will keep opposing defenders up at night both as a receiver as well as a blocker.