It seems like football players are always getting bigger, stronger, faster — or all three. We’ve come to expect absurd feats of athleticism from the young men entering the NFL every year. But sometimes prospects come out of college who make even the most jaded sit back in awe.
The 2023 NFL Draft might not be regarded as a strong draft, but it is very deep in athletic freaks. And even among the amazing athletes in this year’s draft class, Georgia tight end Darnell Washington stands out.
Literally. Despite measuring 6-foo 6 1⁄2 inches and 264 pounds, Washington manages to look much bigger than that. And he’s a phenomenal athlete to boot.
The New York Giants seem to be set at the tight end position heading into 2023. But could a rare athlete like Washington still pique their interest enough to spend a high draft pick?
Prospect: Darnell Washington (0)
Games Watched: vs. Oregon (2022), vs. South Carolina (2022), vs. Tennessee (2022), vs. LSU (2022 SEC Championship Game)
Games Played: 27
Yards (YPC): 774 (17.2 per catch)
Games Played: 15
Yards (YPC): 454 (16.2 per catch)
Best: Size, play strength, athleticism, blocking, competitive toughness
Worst: Lower body stiffness, explosiveness, technique
Projection: A starting tight end with scheme diversity.
Georgia’s Darnell Washington is a big, long, powerful, and athletic tight end prospect.
Washington has a prototypical blend of size, length, and athleticism for the tight end position at the NFL level. He is a massive tight end at 6-foot 6 ⅝ inches, 264 pounds, and manages to look even bigger than that on the field. He also has great length with 34 ⅜ inch arms and big 11-inch hands.
Washington was primarily a blocking tight end in Georgia’s scheme, usually lining up as an in-line or detached tight end, or an H-Back. At times he did line up as a slot or wide receiver, though that didn’t happen as frequently as with other tight ends. Washington was a dominant blocker for a tight end, and didn’t just “lose slowly”. He is capable of holding up against edge rushers in pass protection and creating movement as a run blocker. He was also used to block at the second level or in space on screen plays, and is a devastating blocker when matched up on off-ball linebackers or defensive backs.
He has good field awareness and understands his role in the blocking scheme, allowing him to get in position and execute in a variety of blocking schemes. Washington has the play strength and toughness to sustain his blocks, and he also consistently looks for work.
While Washington wasn’t featured in Georgia’s passing attack and is still developing as a receiver, he has upside there as well. He ran a relatively diverse route tree in Georgia’s offense and generally executed his routes well. He does a good job of presenting a good target for his quarterback and frames the ball well as a check-down option. His massive hands absolutely swallow the ball, and he’s able to extend his long arms to maximize his catch radius. Washington also has enough speed to be a legitimate threat on vertical routes, and can out-run most linebackers when he’s able to lengthen his stride in the open field.
Washington is an incredible athlete overall, but he does have some athletic limitations that show up on tape. He lacks explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, which tracks with his poor 30-inch vertical jump at the Combine. He has more build-up speed than instant acceleration out of his stance, and seems to “lumber” into his routes.
Washington also has some lower-body stiffness that impacts his blocking and receiving. He struggles to consistently play with good knee bend, limiting his leverage and forcing him to lunge more than is desirable. Likewise, he can’t consistently drop his hips as a route runner, forcing him to round off his routes or take a second to gather himself if the route demands a sharp break back towards the ball. That could give savvy linebackers or safeties an opportunity to make a play on the ball in key situations.
Overall Grade: 8.0
Darnell Washington projects as a starting tight end at the NFL level.
Washington will come into the NFL as a potent blocker who can make an impact immediately in the run game and as a pass protector. He’s big, long, powerful, and tenacious as a blocker – all enough to earn him snaps as a TE-2 in a 12-personnel package. Teams with a good TE-1 or a hybrid tight end could get Washington on the field immediately and create problems for defenses with their TE-1 freed up from having to block.
He is still something of an unmolded lump of clay as a pass catcher, but his upside is palpable. He is already capable of being a good check-down option and defenses have to respect his blend of size and long speed. He may never be a precision route runner, and teams will need to take some care in the plays designed for him. Washington could struggle with quick timing routes that ask the tight end to break sharply in close quarters. However, if he’s given time with a good tight ends coach and the chance to catch the ball in-stride heading downfield, he should be a problem for defenses. His massive catch radius and play strength should also make him a real red zone or short yardage threat early on, as well.
The tight end position might not have as much positional value as wide receiver, and they tend to be drafted later because of it. However, Darnell Washington’s sheer athletic upside should ensure that he doesn’t have to wait long to hear his name called.