Can Darnell Washington become a superstar tight end for the Steelers

Mar 4, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (TE17) participates in
Mar 4, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (TE17) participates in / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While there is a lot to like about the Steelers entire draft class, we won’t know how great the class is until the season ends. Interestingly the selection of Darnell Washington poses an enigma with an answer that will elude us at least until the season starts.

With players like Broderick Jones or Joey Porter Jr. what they do on the field will immediately tell us how successful they will be. With Washington, this can be a two-way street. The Steelers primarily drafted him for his blocking ability. But since he is a tight end, he can also catch passes. Which begs the question, where is his ceiling?

The Steelers have made no bones about their intent to use Washington as a blocker. When a guy is 6’7” and weighs 264 lbs, yeah, you’re going put him in someone's way. If it keeps Kenny Pickett from getting sacked or opens a hole and pops Najee for a 30-plus yard rush, then he did his job.       

Can Washington be a great receiver for the Steelers?

However, since Washington is a tight end, eventually, the Steelers will throw a pass or two in his direction. At 6’7”, it’s hard for defensive players to get that high to break up a pass, making him a go-to target in either short situations or on the goal line. Theoretically, he could become Kenny Pickett’s favorite target on plays inside the five-yard line.

There are only 33 tight ends to play in the NFL who are at least 6’6” tall with 500 plus receiving yards in a season. The most successful arguably was Rob Gronkowski. Only six tight ends have players who are at least 6’7” with at least 500 plus receiving yards in a season. The most productive was Jimmy Graham playing from 2010-2021. He had 8506 receiving yards in his career and 85 touchdowns. However, several have played for the Steelers, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, and Zach Gentry with none having stellar careers nor have they surpassed 500 receiving yards with the Steelers in a single season.  

Washington, though, comes to the Steelers with the athletic ability that James, Gentry, and Spaeth lacked. He reminds people of Eric Green, who was only 6’5” but a dense 280 lbs. In his best season with the Steelers he had 942 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Before leaving the Steelers he amassed 2681 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns.  

Where is Washington’s ceiling?

We know Washington, at times, might be a good receiver for the Steelers. He had 45 receptions for 774 yards and three touchdowns, even in college. Once he grabs the ball, unless he’s gang-tackled, he is a tough guy to bring down one-on-one. This probably might allow him to extend a few plays for extra yardage or get him across the goal line.

Nevertheless, at some point in 2023, the Steelers will try working him into the passing game. Either taking advantage of his height and athletic ability for short yardage pickups for a first down or to score. In the realm of fantasy football, many analysts think he is just going to be a blocker, nothing more. He will be a blocker; that much is certain. However, Mike Tomlin will include him in the passing game eventually. He could prove more valuable In the passing game than some think.    

While we know the Steelers want to use him as a blocker as they did at Georgia. However, at times, someone will toss a pass his way. Thus could he expand beyond his blocking role and become an additional deadly weapon for Kenny Pickett? One would assume the Steelers will at least see what he can do.

Next. were the medicals overblown on Darnell Washington. dark

It may be a safe assumption that Washington will not be the next Travis Kelce, but there is a potential upside we can not ignore. He is athletic enough he could develop into a decent receiver along with his blocking ability. If that does happen, Washington could become a nightmare for defenses to defend. It will be fun to see how he develops.