Darnell Washington

Steelers TE Darnell Washington Unlikely To Play Signficant Role In 2023

The Steelers added an intriguing member to their tight end group during the draft by selecting Darnell Washington. Their incumbents at the position appear likely to delay his ascent into a significant role as a rookie, however.

Washington was one of several members of a celebrated TE class in 2023 after his three-year career at Georgia. He won a pair of national titles with the Bulldogs, and set new personal marks in receptions (28), yards (454) and touchdowns (two) in 2022. The 6-7, 270-pounder’s draft stock was aided primarily by his high degree of success as a run-blocker, though, and that will no doubt be his path to playing time early in his NFL career.

Pittsburgh has 2021 second-rounder Pat Freiermuth in place as their top pass-catching tight end. The 24-year-old recorded 732 yards last season, the sixth-highest figure in the NFL at the position. He will be complimented by veteran Zach Gentry, whose strength as a run blocker earned him a one-year deal in free agency to remain with the Steelers. The presence of those two will lead to a slow approach on the team’s part as it pertains to Washington.

“It takes a little bit of pressure off Darnell because of what you’ve got in that room,” tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said, via Joe Rutter of TribLive.com. “As he comes in, he can come in slowly and be allowed to grow. As he does that, I think he can be a real problem for people to handle.”

Washington, 21, saw his draft stock take a hit due to a foot injury, but his stellar Combine performance convinced the Steelers to add him to an already young skill-position group. Many tight ends shoulder small workloads in their rookie campaigns, and the depth at the position in Pittsburgh will give the team the luxury of time in developing Washington. His long-term potential remains intriguing given his size and athleticism, though.

His former Georgia teammate, left tackle Broderick Jones, is likewise in danger of beginning the 2023 season out of the starting lineup. The latter faces considerable expectations after the Steelers traded up to select him in the first round, but veteran Dan Moore impressed during the spring. Padded practices will commence during training camp, giving Washington an opportunity to earn a larger workload ahead of his rookie season.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/12/23

Rookie minicamps started today and more rookies put the names on the dotted line of their four-year contracts. Here are the mid- to late-round picks who signed today:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Houston Texans

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Commanders

Post-Draft Notes: Seahawks, Washington, Jaguars

The Seahawks were able to obtain both the top cornerback and top wide receiver on their board last Thursday when they drafted Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon at No. 5 overall and Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 20 overall. There had been rumors that Seattle had their eyes on Jalen Carter at No. 5, but with some troubling pre-draft issues, Carter wasn’t likely worth a top-five pick anymore.

A few teams had ideas of trading into Seattle’s pick and there’s a chance the Seahawks would’ve listened. General manager John Schneider, though, clarified that there were two players who would’ve prevented the Seahawks from trading down, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. Witherspoon happened to be one of them.

It’s unclear who the other player might have been or if they were even still available, but the Seahawks didn’t trade out of their top draft spot, so it’s clear that they were able to get their guy in Witherspoon.

Here are a few other rumors following the 2023 NFL Draft:

  • New Steelers tight end Darnell Washington experienced a bit of a slide in the draft this weekend. The former-Georgia Bulldog had a first- to second-round grade going into the Thursday with many expecting him to be the fourth or fifth tight end off the board. Especially after a run of tight ends started in the second round, it was surprising not to hear Washington’s name called. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, injuries were the reason for the slide. Washington’s knee was a concern, but reportedly, there were other things on his medical that contributed to teams’ hesitancy, as well. The scout giving this information also called the slide “laughable,” asserting that he expects Washington to play for a long time in the NFL.
  • The Jaguars had a number of Day 3 picks that they used on Saturday. 10 to be exact. It sounds like they tried to sell some of them off and failed. According to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, Jacksonville’s general manager, Trent Baalke, attempted to trade up in the draft’s later round and got denied. Multiple times. “We went through 15 or 16 teams when we were trying to trade up,” Baalke told the media. “Every team behind us and not one would make a move.”

Draft Rumors: Stroud, Wilson, Carter, Kancey, Bears, Van Ness

When the Panthers traded up for the No.1 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, the betting odds for who would be selected swung from Alabama’s Bryce Young to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. As we have crept towards the pivotal day, Young has forced his way back into the favorite position. Questions about how the teams following Carolina will approach their picks have some believing in a potential slide for Stroud on Thursday. According to Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network, the current belief is that Stroud won’t make it past the Raiders at No. 7 overall.

While some believe that quarterbacks could be the focus of the first four picks, there are possibilities for each pick. The Panthers could choose Young, and there’s a chance the Texans will go pass rusher. Arizona likely won’t take a passer after paying Kyler Murray, and the Colts have Kentucky quarterback Will Levis as an option opposite Stroud. The Seahawks and Lions follow them, but both have veteran quarterbacks coming off of strong seasons.

That brings us to the Raiders. Even after Las Vegas brought in Jimmy Garoppolo, rumors have claimed that the team will still look into drafting a passer with their top pick. If Stroud somehow pinballs his way past the first six picks, it would be extremely difficult for the Raiders to pass him up.

Here are a few other rumors as we close in on Draft Day:

  • As we mentioned above, if the Texans pass on quarterback, they could choose a pass rusher with the second-overall pick. Many believe Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson could be that selection, but according to Pauline, Houston has some problems with his medicals. If Wilson is not their selection as a pass rusher, Alabama’s Will Anderson would likely be the other option.
  • There has been some reported certainty that Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter will be the Seahawks choice at No. 5 overall. According to Pauline, that certainty is coming from more external sources than internal. Reportedly, Seattle has some hesitancy about handing over the $30MM of guarantees that Carter would get in that draft slot. We’ll have to wait and see if that hesitancy wins out.
  • One name that continues to rise up draft boards is that of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. Despite the lack of ideal size, at 6-foot-1, 281 pounds, Kancey has convinced many that he is a lock to be selected on Day 1, according to Pauline. The Saints, in particular, are a team that have really done their due diligence on Kancey. They could feel really good about nabbing a certain first-round talent with the 29th pick of the draft.
  • According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears could be looking to add a tight end in a year that is incredibly deep at the position. Chicago won’t likely use a top ten pick on Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer or Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, but thanks to the Roquan Smith-trade, the team has two second-round picks and may use them on such prospects as Georgia’s Darnell Washington, South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft, or Iowa’s Sam LaPorta.
  • Speaking of Iowa, a recent mock draft by Pro Football Network’s Adam Caplan slotted Iowa pass rusher Lukas Van Ness as a top ten pick. Caplan explains that he’s spoken with several executives that believe Van Ness won’t make it past the Eagles at No. 10 overall. Philadelphia had been looking into pass rushers in free agency with an aging Brandon Graham, and Van Ness may be the answer.

Draft Notes: Porter, Jones, Washington, Murphy, Anudike-Uzomah, Banks, Branch

Pre-draft visit season wrapped up this week, but teams squeezed in several meetings before the deadline. A few booked Joey Porter Jr. visits. The Penn State cornerback met with the Eagles, Giants, Saints and Panthers before Wednesday’s deadline, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. Porter also visited the Steelers, Ravens and Raiders previously. Graded as a first-round talent, Porter stands to follow Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez off the board at some point on the draft’s first night.

Here is how other prospects’ visit itineraries wrapped up:

  • The Steelers closed their visit schedule by meeting with both tackle Broderick Jones, tight end Darnell Washington and edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah, according to ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor and The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly (all Twitter links). Jones, whom ESPN’s Scouts Inc. and NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah rate as a top-20 prospect, met with the Chiefs, Jets, Patriots, Bears and Cardinals during the visit window. The Steelers briefly considered Orlando Brown Jr., and Mike Tomlin indicated he was comfortable with the team’s current Dan MooreChukwuma Okorafor tackle setup.
  • Anudike-Uzomah and Washington also met with the Buccaneers, per Wilson and NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter links). One of two high-level Georgia tight end prospects, Washington will enter the draft at least a year ahead of standout pass catcher Brock Bowers. After two sub-200-yard years, Washington totaled 454 and two touchdowns as a junior. Going 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds, Washington profiles as an in-line tight end with some receiving upside. Anudike-Uzomah totaled 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons at Kansas State. Both players profile as fringe first-round talents, with Jeremiah ranking Washington as the third-best option in this year’s deep tight end class.
  • Scouts Inc. rates Clemson’s Myles Murphy a few spots ahead of Anudike-Uzomah, at No. 23 overall, and the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala notes (via Twitter) the Commanders took a recent look at the edge defender this week. After extending Daron Payne, Washington still rosters its four first-round D-linemen. But only one of the four (Chase Young) arrived during Ron Rivera‘s tenure.
  • Much of the NFL wanted to meet with Deonte Banks. The Maryland cornerback spent extensive time in two of the country’s time zones. In addition to his meetings with the Raiders, Ravens, Commanders and Steelers, Banks visited 10 more teams — the Saints, Titans, Vikings, Texans, Giants, Buccaneers, Eagles, Jaguars, Bears and Bills — before the pre-draft meeting buzzer sounded, Rapoport tweets. Jeremiah slots Banks 24th overall, ranking the ex-Big Ten cover man as this year’s fourth-best corner. A former three-star recruit, Banks earned a starting job as a freshman. A shoulder injury halted his junior year after two games, but the 6-foot defender bounced back last season to close his career on the first-round radar.
  • The Giants also huddled up with safety/slot defender Brian Branch this week, Wilson tweets. The Alabama contributor had previously met with a host of teams. New York expected to re-sign Julian Love this offseason but lost the safety to Seattle. The team, which selected slot corner Cor’Dale Flott in last year’s third round, signed veteran Bobby McCain to a low-level contract and has Xavier McKinney returning from an injury-marred season.

Dolphins Notes: Draft, Trades, TEs, Hill

With only four picks in this year’s draft (and none in the top 50), the Dolphins have received less attention than many other teams in the build-up to next week’s event. They, like their counterparts, have continued to do their homework on positions of need, however.

That includes taking a look at several tight end options, as detailed by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. The Dolphins have met with Georgia alum Darnell Washington, who has been one of the more popular prospects at the position and is likely to be off the board by the time Miami is on the clock at No. 51. Other options they have looked into include Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State), Sam LaPorta (Iowa), Brenton Strange (Penn State) and Luke Musgrave (Oregon State). The Dolphins are in need of a Mike Gesicki replacement after the veteran had a underwhelming 2022 campaign and departed in free agency.

Another spot which is receiving plenty of attention, per Jackson, is the interior offensive line. Miami has “given serious thought” to drafting a guard, and the position will be a target for undrafted free agents as well. The Dolphins’ o-line faces questions heading into the 2023 season, but Austin Jackson‘s future appears to remain at right tackle. Keeping him at that spot would create the need for at least a depth addition or two along the interior this spring.

Here are some other notes out of South Beach:

  • Given their lack of draft capital, the Dolphins would not represent a strong candidate to trade up. However, a number of teams have called them to discuss the possibility of moving into the first round, as noted (on Twitter) by Outkick’s Armando Salguero. With the Dolphins only owning one third-round pick in 2023 after No. 51, along with one sixth- and seventh-rounder, a package including 2024 picks would be needed for such a scenario to take place. As a result, it remains unlikely at this point that Miami will be involved on Day 1 next week.
  • Part of the reason the team is short on picks, of course, is the price they paid for Tyreek Hill. The four-time All-Pro wideout signed a four-year, $120MM deal upon his arrival in Miami, something which was driven in large part by the changes in the position’s market. As Hill recently acknowledged on a podcast appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB, the lucrative nature of Christian Kirk‘s Jaguars pact (four years, $72MM) influenced his asking price. “He signed the deal and like he surpassed me, and I’m like, bro, I compete on the field, and I also compete on the business out of this, too,” Hill said. “So, I’m not going to let Christian Kirk have a higher contract than me. I’m just not” (h/t Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams).
  • Given their situation with only four picks, Miami is in line to be active on the UDFA market following the draft. As Jackson writes, the team could be eyeing a kicker addition to serve as competition during OTAs and training camp. Jason Sanders as been in place as the team’s kicker since being drafted in 2018, and has remained consistent from short and medium range during his tenure. Sanders has gone just 2-for-6 on kicks of 50 or more yards in each of the past two campaigns, however, which could open the door to a strong-legged rookie making an impact in the summer.

TE Darnell Washington Visits Panthers, Cowboys

This year’s tight end class is said to be far deeper and more talented than any of those in the recent past. Darnell Washington is one of several highly-touted prospects at the position, and has drawn interest from multiple teams in the pre-draft process.

The Georgia product recently met with the Panthers and Cowboys, as noted by Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 and ESPN’s Todd Archer (Twitter links). Those teams are in far different situations with respect to their draft positioning, but they likely aren’t the only ones doing their homework on the uber-athletic pass catcher.

Washington spent three seasons with the Bulldogs, and the 2022 campaign was his most productive. He totaled 28 catches for 454 yards and a pair of touchdowns, all new career highs. Those numbers (along with his prowess as a run blocker) helped lead Georgia to another national championship, and confirmed his status as one of the top tight ends in this year’s class. He followed that up with an impressive showing at the Combine, during which he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash.

The Panthers will use the top pick on a quarterback, the identity of which seems to be coming into focus as the first round approaches. Their next selection is No. 39, which would likely be in the range for Washington and most other seam-stretchers this year. Carolina has already made a big move at the TE spot this offseason, inking Hayden Hurst to a three-year, $21.75MM deal in free agency.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, have yet to make an addition on the open market. Longtime starter Dalton Schultz took a one-year pact with the Texans, despite Dallas reportedly having offered a significantly more lucrative extension. That leaves the latter team in need of a new No. 1 option at the position; while in-house candidates are in place, the Cowboys have frequently been connected to using a Day 1 or 2 selection on a tight end.

Dallas owns pick No. 26, which could be around the time the first tight ends start coming off the board. Washington faces competition from Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid in particular to be the first to hear their name called at the position, and several high-profile prospects will last into the second and third rounds. The Cowboys have the 58th and 90th selections, which will give them multiple chances to add a seam-stretcher, be it Washington or another prospect they take an extended look at.