One polarizing player the Steelers must utilize to the max in 2024

Darnell Washington generated a lot of hype prior to his rookie season but was used sparingly. The Steelers must change that this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Las Vegas Raiders
Pittsburgh Steelers v Las Vegas Raiders / Chris Unger/GettyImages

Last year, the Steelers surprised many people by selecting Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Washington was a favorite of numerous draft analysts pre-draft, due to his combination of size and athleticism. Still, with many other holes on the roster, and two capable tight ends on the roster, the Steelers were a surprising landing spot.

Sitting behind Pat Freiermuth and Connor Heyward on the depth chart for traditional tight end snaps left him very little opportunities in the passing game, and limited him nearly exclusively to a role as a blocker. This is something that the Steelers must change in 2024.

Darnell Washington must be more involved in the offense

Let me preface this by saying, that I am not insinuating that Washington should be Pittsburgh's number one tight end. Freiermuth is a very talented player and fits the mold of the prototypical tight end, and I think he will have a big year in Pittsburgh.

Instead, the Steelers should find ways to utilize both players as they both have different skill sets. Heyward is another interesting player that the Steelers have at tight end but he isn't a typical tight end and projects more as a fullback/ h-back than an in-line tight end. While this is useful and nice to have another unique skill set, he should not take snaps away from Washington.

Last season, according to ESPN, Washington was limited to 7 catches for 61 yards, so it should not be difficult to say that he should eclipse that total this season. At 6'7", and 265 pounds, Washington is a matchup nightmare, and the Steelers should use that to their advantage on third downs, in short-yardage situations, and in the red zone.

While he is not a focal point of the offense, he should be a player that they draw up plays for in those specific situations. Covering a player as big and fast as him in short areas is nearly impossible, and his catch radius makes it easy for a quarterback to put the ball up high in a spot where only he can catch it.

Utilizing Washington this way will make the Steelers much more dangerous in the red zone, and will draw a defense's attention to him, opening up looks for other players, and creating much easier scoring opportunities.

Washington is a great fit for Steelers' new offense

With Arthur Smith in place as the new offensive coordinator, the Steelers figure to be a run-heavy offense, with a lot more 12 personnel. The offense figures to be built off of the run game and play-action game.

With this in mind, Freiermuth and Washington should both see a lot more utilization in the offense with lots of free releases off the line when the Steelers are running the ball well and call a bootleg.

Add to this the fact that the Steelers don't possess the personnel to run 3 and 4 wide receiver sets very often, and getting multiple tight ends on the field makes even more sense. George Pickens and Roman Wilson figure to see the field a lot this year, but after that, the team has players such as Van Jefferson, Calvin Austin, Quez Watkins, and Scotty Miller, who are all capable, but not players who need to be on the field at all times.

How Matt Canada was unable to utilize a player with as unique of a skillset as Washington last year is puzzling, but should not come as a surprise due to the offense's failure to use the middle of the field at all. While I am not saying that Washington will be a Pro Bowler by any means, he should be much more involved in the offense, and be a steady red zone target for Russell Wilson and/ or Justin Fields.