I understand the outside argument that if Darnell Washington can only be a TE2 on his college team, why should he be in the first-round conversation for the 2023 NFL Draft? Well for one, the dude ahead of him was Brock Bowers, who might be one of the better tight end prospects in history next year. The only other situation I can think of like this came in 2019, when Iowa's TJ Hockenson (eighth overall) and Noah Fant (20th) both got selected in Round 1. Except of course Bowers is too young for this year's draft.
Secondly, if you watch Washington on the field, he makes plenty of plays on the ball and most importantly embraces the physicality of blocking with enthusiasm. And in case there was any doubt about his overall athleticism, Saturday's Combine drills and measurements showcased Washington in just about the best possible light he could've hoped for.
To get lumped into company with Rob Gronkowski is rarefied air and shouldn't be scoffed at. If memory serves, Gronk flourished in a two-tight end system with the Patriots. Whether Washington goes to a team with an established veteran at the position or not, his value will be immense.
When you have a dude this big with these type of movement and ball skills who can also block, it opens up so many possibilities for an offense. You can get really creative and versatile with personnel packaging. And hell, if Washington actually gets the shot to be a TE1 in the NFL, I feel like he'll start to pop by Year 2 and become one of the better all-around players at the position in short order.
If we're still comparing to Gronk, it's obviously a near-impossible high bar to clear for Washington to best him in pass-catching production. That won't be asked of him as often. It'll be more about paving lanes as a run blocker and becoming a matchup problem in the red zone — at least to start. PS, get a load of Washington taking the sled for a ride today:
It's so exciting that Washington hasn't even begun to realize his full potential and is this physically gifted. Being such a prolific winner at Georgia doesn't hurt, either.
As far as passing game upside among this loaded tight end group, Utah's Dalton Kincaid, Oregon State product Luke Musgrave and even Iowa's Sam LaPorta are all very capable. It's a deep draft at this particular position. Then, you have the mostly-consensus TE1 of the 2023 draft class in Notre Dame's Michael Mayer. Kincaid is recovering from an injury and wasn't at the Combine, Musgrave has very little experience and is a total wild card, and LaPorta, like Kincaid, is nowhere near the blocker Washington is.
Mayer actually tested quite well…
…Nowhere near Washington by most metrics, you'll notice. The only place Mayer gets him is in the vertical jump. There are significant discrepancies in hand size and arm length that favor Washington as well.
It's actually not in my best interest to gas up Darnell Washington to this degree, because I'm quietly hoping he falls to the Bengals and makes the offense more multiple/not as reliant on 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Cincinnati is a great example where you could justify drafting Washington early whether or not incumbent starter/free agent Hayden Hurst returns.
Few guys helped themselves as much as Washington helped himself today. His best football is definitely yet to come.
ICYMI: Earlier I covered the guy who might've helped himself the most at the Combine on Saturday. That'd be Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.