Every season the Steelers select players in the NFL draft, some of them become superstars in the NFL, while others fall flat on their faces and are out of the league in one or two seasons. Taking players in the draft is not an exact science, and there are hits and misses.
However, as with any draft, long before they take the field, you start getting comparisons; oh, this draft pick will be similar to this NFL star or that NFL player. The only issue with such comparisons is that they are all made before the drafted player steps onto the field in a regular season game. Thus, we have no idea what the player will be like until they start playing.
Case in point who knew 6th-round draft choice Antonio Brown between 2011-2018 would rack up 11,040 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns. Who knew Tom Brady, a 6th-round draft choice, would eventually play 23 seasons and become the all-time passing leader in nearly every category with seven Superbowl wins and five Superbowl MVP’S plus numerous other awards.
We make those predictions because, in our infinite wisdom as fans or writers, we somehow think we can accurately predict how good a player will be even before they actually play a down. It seems the Steelers tight end Darnell Washington is one of the latest draft picks in which people assume his ability level before he plays and for the wrong reasons.
Why Darnell Washington could be better than people think
When Darnell Washington was drafted, everyone first noticed his size. Yes, he is a big guy, no doubt about that. Then analysts, after seeing the Steelers drafted Broderick Jones started saying things like well, the Steelers only drafted him as a blocker to go along with Broderick Jones. That statement is true in that blocking is a tight end's primary job, but they occasionally run routes too.
Then shortly after the draft, so-called fantasy football experts said he would have no value for fantasy football; he would only be used as a blocker. Oh, so Mike Tomlin will never send Washington on any pass routes or throw to him in the red zone? What if Pat Freiermuth gets injured? They wouldn’t use Washington?
In Washington’s case, like most NFL draft picks, we can’t just naturally assume how he will be used or that he will not be out there catching passes. When the Steelers run the ball, it makes sense to have Darnell blocking out there. Yet, with his size, most coaches would want to draw up a few pass plays for him. Not being a football expert by any means, it would still be logical to reason that at 6’7” and as a coach, you might want to try tossing a few balls his way in the red zone in plays designed to take advantage of his height.
Perhaps after his days in the NFL are over, he will be remembered as nothing but a glorified blocker. If that’s the case, so be it. In the larger scope, why not just reserve judgment on who we think he may best be compared to and let his playing ability on the field make that determination?
As someone that plays fantasy football, no one will draft him in their league, then he will have a game with three touchdown receptions then the waiver wire goes nuts with teams trying to pick him up. Looking at Washington, you can see his potential upside for the Steelers. There is one related question. Will Mike Tomlin or Matt Canada utilize him the way he needs to be utilized?
It wouldn’t be the first time Tomlin received criticism for utilizing players incorrectly. A case could be made Tomlin did that very thing with former wide receiver James Washington. No matter how many times James Washington made a clutch catch, Tomlin seemingly underutilized him.
We will have a clearer picture of that after his first season, so we will wait and see. If they do not utilize him correctly, then in four seasons, Washington is playing with a team that knows how to use him. That’s a coaching issue, though, not a Washington issue. In any event, Perhaps instead of ignoring his potential upside, just reserve any judgment and stop making hypothetical comparisons until the end of his first season.