Realistic best and worst case scenarios for the Steelers rookies

Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (0)
Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (0) / Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Steelers best/worst case scenario for Darnell Washington

Best case scenario

Darnell Washington was a luxury pick, but at 93rd overall and with rare size and traits, it was a luxury worth taking. He won’t be a conventional starter, but he can quickly carve out a role in this offense even though the tight end position usually struggles to translate early on in the NFL.

Washington dominates camp and the preseason with his blocking ability, earning his nickname of “the 6th offensive lineman.” Not only is he a good blocker though, but he showcases soft hands and the ability to use his size to gain extra yards on receptions. He leads the Steelers in receiving yards during the preseason.

His receiving ability doesn’t translate early on, as he logs just two receptions over the first four games despite playing nearly 45 percent of the snaps. During that time, Pittsburgh has the top rushing offense in the NFL, as Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren both consistently churn out big games. Washington’s ability to block along with the offensive line improvements.

He begins growing a role in the offense after a game without Pat Freiermuth, where Washington logs ten receptions, over 100 yards, and two scores. The rapport built from that game carries over for the rest of the season, as he continues to feature more in the offense while still being the violent blocker he is.

He ends the season with 33 receptions, over 300 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. His blocking and ability in the red zone make him provide the Steelers with a lot to look forward to from their big weapon moving forward.

Worst case scenario

Washington seems like a safe bet to see the field as the second tight end as a rookie for at least his blocking ability. I’m as big of a fan of Zach Gentry as anyone out there, but Washington is a more polished blocker, and it wouldn’t be hard to better Gentry’s ability as a receiver.

The issue is, during training camp, Washington struggles to keep his knees healthy, and he misses a significant portion of the preseason. He starts the season as an inactive for the first three games, as he needs to catch up from the time missed. He finally sees the field in week four, playing 15 offensive snaps, all on running plays.

Like above, Washington shines when asked to block, but his receiving ability is worse than many expected. He can’t separate, fails to run crisp routes, and he doesn’t play as athletically as he tested. He earns snaps as a blocker, but he can’t clearly surpass Gentry on the depth chart.

His knees also continue to plague him, causing him to miss five various games for injury. Because of the early season inactive games, he only plays half the season, logs roughly 15 percent of the offensive snaps, and records six receptions and scores once.

Washington looks good as a blocker, but the knees seem like an issue, and his receiving ability is marginal. He figures to slot in as the second tight end moving forward, but the desire and focus on more two-tight end sets have faded.