When it comes to value picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, you would be hard-pressed to find a pick which possessed more value than Darnell Washington to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most saw the 6’7” tight end being either a late 1st Round, or 2nd Round selection, but when he slid to the 3rd Round he became a very intriguing option for teams who were looking to add talent in their tight end room.
With the 80th pick, Steelers fans were excited to see Washington was still on the board, and then the Steelers traded the pick to the Carolina Panthers and moved back to the 93rd pick in the draft. Shockingly, Washington was still available and became the team’s 3rd Round selection.
Following the selection, many were wondering how the Steelers will build this mammoth of a man into their offense. In the post-pick press conference Matt Canada talked about just how Washington will impact the team’s offense, as well as the tight end depth chart. Of course, the first talking point was about Washington’s willingness, and ability, as a blocker.
“It’s all over the tape.” Canada said. “He’s a giant human being that takes pride in blocking. He enjoys being a blocker. I think he’s been quoted saying he’s a sixth offensive lineman. He understands what his body can do, and I do think he can catch balls.
“They had so many weapons at Georgia and I’m not sure his totals are maybe what you might think they could be. He’s definitely a blocker, and as a guy, we obviously formal-ed him and met him there in Indy and we had him back. Just a really, really good person. Likes football, likes being physical. Really excited about him.”
Outside of his blocking, one area where Washington will help the Steelers will be as an asset for Pat Freiermuth in multiple ways. First, in the case Freiermuth were to be injured.
“Him and Pat are certainly very, very different players. Obviously, depth at that position and what you do with those guys depends on who’s on the field. He’s a different type of a tight end, but we’re certainly looking forward to playing him this year and the opportunities he creates and matchups he creates.”
Another aspect of helping Freiermuth develop as a weapon in the Steelers’ offense will his ability to allow Freiermuth out of the in-line tight end as much as he was in his first two seasons.
“Exactly. I think Pat’s a different type of tight end and those two guys, Zach and Darnell, are bigger, more blocking guys. Zach’s made some plays down the field and can catch the ball, but certainly Pat is more known for that, right? I mean, that’s why the tight end position, I think there’s probably two types, two or three in the game right now. I would say those are different types of players, but we think we can match them up pretty well.”
If you were to describe the Steelers offense last season in the second half of the season, it would be all about time of possession, but not always equating that time of possession into points. Washington could certainly help is this regard as a red-zone threat.
“I mean, he could be anything.” said Canada. “Obviously, his size comes into play. We’ve got a lot of good weapons right now. I do believe because of the weapons they had on their team his pass catching total might not be as impressive to some when you look at just stats but that’s what a lot of people do. He does make plays on the ball. He has some run-after-the-catch. He has a couple real impressive highlights running through guys, running over guys. So, yeah, he can be a weapon in different parts of the field. For sure.”
Ultimately, the hope is the addition of Washington can help with the overall evolution of the offense. Making it more versatile, especially from a personnel perspective.
“I think it gives us more personnel. You talk about the tight end that comes in, and more opportunities, different guys playing, and obviously we want to continue to get better and we have to get better.” Canada said. “Where that’s going to take us, I don’t want to say right now or get into that. But we’re really excited about the two guys we just got. We got two really, really good players in two days.”
Looking at the talent the Steelers have amassed over the course of the offseason certainly has fans excited for the potential of the group. But is Canada the man for the job? That’s the ultimate question which will only be answered when the games start this fall. In the meantime, fans will likely remain skeptical.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.