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McFadden Buys More 12 Personnel In ’23: ‘Matchup Nightmare For Opposing Defenses’

The usage of three-wide-receiver sets in the NFL has exploded over the course of the past decade and a half or so, give or take, to the point at which it is the predominant offensive package for almost every team in the NFL. There is some annual ebb and flow between seasons, but defenses have gotten used to facing three receivers more often than not.

The tide has begun to turn somewhat more recently, with more teams making greater use of 12 personnel, with two tight ends, two wide receivers, and a running back on the field. It’s probably no coincidence that it’s come along with the rise of the receiving tight end. And it appears as though that’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to do in 2023 after drafting Darnell Washington in the third round. Former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden shared his thoughts on that yesterday on his All Things Covered podcast, co-hosted with cousin and current Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The unique thing about Darnell Washington is that he’s like an extra tackle, because he’s really good in the run game as well. So now the Pittsburgh Steelers and Matt Canada, if they want to combine this old-school mentality 12 personnel…most defenses, because you have two athletic pass catchers at the tight end position that you have to respect, they might come out in their nickel package, or their dime package. If that’s the case, you can just run it down the teeth of their defense. They’ve got little bodies out there being respectful of the pass. Or if they want to put bigger bodies out there, you still like your two tight ends in that matchup against bigger bodies that are not nickel- or dime-like guys. So this could be a unique matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

Washington, the 6’7”, 270-pound tight end out of Georgia, posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.88, which is tremendously high and was the second best at the tight end position in the 2023 NFL Draft class. While his agility drills held him back some, he has speed, and of course has all the size that you want.

The Steelers’ new tight end played second fiddle for the Bulldogs at tight end to Brock Bowers who is expected to be a very high draft pick a year from now, as a receiver so Washington didn’t put up the receiving numbers he might have in another situation.

But he showed enough on tape that opposing defenses in the NFL are going to understand that if he is on the field, they are going to have to respect that ability. And maybe if the Steelers have audibles in their offense this year, they can move between a pass and a run to better suit whatever the defense might be showing them.

That’s the biggest value of the 12 personnel with receiving-capable tight ends, because it can be equally potent running the ball or throwing it, and defenses don’t know which to plan for. Whatever they show, you can audible to the opposite and catch them at a disadvantage. That’s the definition of a matchup nightmare.

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