It’s got to be nigh impossible for an alumnus to be unbiased about one of his alma mater’s prospects, especially if they happen to play the same position, so it might be advisable to take things in such contexts with a grain or two of salt.
With that being said, it’s hard to ignore the effusive praise former Georgia Bulldogs tight end Randy McMichael heaped on Darnell Washington, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick coming out of the 2023 NFL Draft.
“You’re getting a monster”, he said of Washington on 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller. “The first time I went to a game and I was on the sideline and I saw him, I was like, ‘Good Lord, look at this dude here’. He blocked out half the sun. He is a phenomenal athlete to be his size, and he moves people without them wanting to be moved”.
I would imagine that most draft analysts and teams had a much higher talent grade on Washington than where he was drafted, late in the third round. At 6’7” and 270 pounds and yet with some excellent athletic testing numbers, players with his combination of traits are uncommon.
The only reason that he happened to be available where he was is because teams were concerned about his long-term medical prospects. Washington himself acknowledged the reports about teams worrying about his knees, though he very much downplayed anything being much of a concern and noted his lack of injury history. But that’s a question for the future. In the present, the Steelers expect him to make his presence felt on the field.
“Getting him there made a lot of people happy. The quarterback definitely, but Najee Harris, because big 0 can control the edges”, McMichael said about the Steelers’ running back. “That’s what he does best. He moves like a guy much smaller than him”.
Washington isn’t just a big body, however. He plays the position with intelligence and with a level of seriousness to the craft that you don’t always find in an era in which tight ends increasingly prefer to be pass catchers over blockers.
McMichael particularly praised Washington’s ability to play with a low pad level in spite of his height but did not ignore his contributions as an offensive playmaker. “Those hands that he has, he sucks the ball out of the air, and he usually catches everything with his hands”, he said.
The Steelers’ tight end room is getting a bit crowded now with the rookie joining Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, and Connor Heyward from last season’s roster. The Bulldog, however, shouldn’t find it too difficult to earn snaps. He’s probably already the best blocker at the position on the team even before he takes the field.