2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Darnell Washington (Fantasy Football)

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While the 2023 draft is heavily defined by the depth at the running back position, the tight end class is arguably just as talented. From Michael Mayer to Dalton Kincaid, several prospects could be impactful starters at the next level. Darnell Washington, an early-declare tight end out of Georgia, belongs in this conversation as well after performing at an elite level at the NFL combine. With an impressive skill set as both a blocker and a receiver, Washington should be on your radar as you approach your dynasty rookie drafts.

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series, which will continue until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.

College Production Profile

What did Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Kyle Pitts all have in common as prospects as they entered the NFL? They were highly productive and dominant in at least one of their collegiate seasons. Therefore, if we take a look at the tight ends who have averaged the most points per game within their first three years in the NFL (since 2010), 10 of the top 12 averaged over 1.80 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt in their best collegiate season. In other words, while draft capital and athleticism matter, production remains a significant piece of the puzzle when evaluating tight ends.

This brings us to Darnell Washington, who was a multi-sport athlete (track and basketball) and was rated as a 5-star recruit entering his career at Georgia. Unfortunately, his production is the weakest part of his draft profile. In his first season, he was only marginally involved as he recorded 166 receiving yards and zero touchdowns – which would equate to a 15.1% receiving yards market share on a per-game basis. On a positive note, he did average an absurd 23.7 yards per catch as a true freshman, showcasing an ability to generate big plays on offense.

While his true freshman season gave us a glimpse of his upside, ideally, his production should progress and improve throughout his career. As you can see above, however, his numbers would only decline as Washington would average less than 10% of the team’s receiving yards in his final two seasons. You might also notice that he never met or exceeded the TE1 Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt threshold that I mentioned earlier in this segment.

To be fair, a significant reason for Washington’s stagnant production was the addition of Brock Bowers in 2021, who has been one of the most productive tight ends in the country. How impressive was Bowers as a freshman? He averaged over 23% of the Bulldog’s receiving yards and 2.23 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt. In fact, he is on pace to be one of the most productive tight end prospects we have seen over the last decade – ahead of Kyle Pitts and Michael Mayer. As a result, it should not come as a surprise that Washington took a step back as he played behind an elite prospect in his final two campaigns. In short, his production profile does come with some risks. However, within context, Washington is still an intriguing prospect. If we factor in his elite athletic profile (more on that in the next segment) and potential early-round draft capital, he should remain one of the top tight ends in this class.

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Height Weight 40-yard dash Vertical Broad Jump
6’7” 264 lbs 4.64 31″ 10’2”

Darnell Washington is without a doubt one of the most athletically gifted prospects in the 2023 class. Not only did he measure in at 6’7” and 264 pounds, his hand size (11”) and arm length (34.4”) both rank within the +90th percentile among all tight ends to enter the NFL. In other words, he has an elite catch radius, which makes him a mismatch nightmare in all areas of the field. His athletic measurables were similarly impressive. Per NFL Combine Results, his 10-yard split (1.57), broad jump (10’2”), and shuttle score (4.08) all rank within the +90th percentile, showcasing some of the explosiveness and speed that we see in his film. In short, Washington absolutely crushed the combine. And because athletic scores have a positive correlation to NFL production at the tight end position, it is very encouraging to see Washington clearly check that box in his profile.

What’s on Tape

As part of my prospect evaluation, I watch anywhere between four to six games of film to gain a better understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Below are my observations on Darnell Washington’s film.

Games Viewed: 2022 vs LSU, 2022 vs Mississippi State, 2022 vs Vanderbilt, 2022 vs Missouri

1. Two Tight End Sets with Bowers and Washington

As I mentioned above, the Georgia offense relied heavily on both Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers over the last two seasons. However, they were both used in very different ways. Washington was primarily used as the more traditional, blocking tight end. On the other hand, Bowers lined up frequently in the slot and was often leveraged as a downfield threat. Washington did occasionally receive his opportunities as a receiver as he was heavily utilized in the red zone. In fact, he was often a mismatch in that area of the field, especially against smaller defensive backs. Regardless, it is very clear that the presence of Bowers limited Washington’s upside in Georgia’s offense. Therefore, this should provide some context regarding his lack of elite production as he was stuck in a role that did not allow him to flourish as a receiver.

2. Consistent and Effective Blocking

It should not come as a surprise that the Bulldogs heavily relied on Washington as a blocker because of how dominant he was in that facet of the game. As you might imagine, his massive frame allowed him to successfully block most defensive players. From edge rushers to cornerbacks, Washington displayed the strength and tenacity to succeed as a blocker on almost every occasion. His quickness and length also allowed him to pivot against some of the more athletic pass rushers, displaying an ability to keep his feet moving to stay in front of the defender. In addition, even when he was asked to run a route, Washington would often seek opportunities to block downfield as he consistently made an effort to help his teammates gain as many “yards after the catch” as possible. We see some of these skills displayed below as Washington moves his feet to contain the pass rush, giving his quarterback enough time to find his receiver. 

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3. Big Play Ability as a Deep Threat and in the Red Zone

So, Washington is an effective blocker. Unfortunately, we do not play in a “Points per Block” league. 

The good news? Washington also showcased some upside as a receiver despite his limited targets. While he only totaled 45 touches in three seasons, his 17.2 yards per reception leads this class by a significant margin. In other words, he was a big-play threat whenever he was given the opportunity. He displayed the speed to get behind the defense on deeper routes, and the ball-tracking to adjust at the catch point for some impressive receptions. In addition, his wide frame and catch radius should allow him to be an immediate threat in the red zone at the next level.

In the clip below against Vanderbilt, Washington leverages his athletic ability to reel in the one-handed catch and then accelerates for some additional YAC.

What’s Not on Tape

1. Diverse Route Tree

Because of his primary role as a blocker in the Georgia offense, Washington was unable to showcase a complete or diverse route tree. At least in my four-game sample size, he was primarily asked to run go routes up the seam, or flat routes that rarely generated a target. Occasionally, the Bulldogs would line him up outside for a curl or dig route; however, those opportunities were few and far between as Washington was rarely the first or second option for Georgia. Instead, their offense would run through Brock Bowers and their running backs, leaving very few opportunities for Washington to shine. 

2. Consistent Separation in his Routes

One of Washington’s weaknesses was gaining separation early in his routes. While he certainly displayed impressive straight-line speed, his ability to accelerate in and out of his breaks was less effective. Similarly, his first step was not as explosive coming off the line of scrimmage, as it would take him a few strides to fully ramp up to top speed. Keep in mind, a receiver can find separation in multiple areas in his route. So while Washington was not the most fluid or explosive route runner, he instead found frequent success separating at the catch point.

2023 Fantasy and Dynasty Outlook

Entering the NFL, Darnell Washington brings a unique blend of elite athleticism and intriguing receiving ability. Unfortunately, because his production profile was limited by the presence of Bowers, it is slightly more difficult to fully evaluate Washington’s upside at the next level. However, if I place the following filters in my TE prospect database…

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  • 1.00 to 1.50 Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt (Best Season)
  • Early Declare
  • Day One or Two Capital
  • +110 Height Adjusted Speed Score

… I arrive at the following prospects:

As you might expect, Darnell Washington could join this list depending on his draft capital this spring. Coincidentally, Noah Fant makes for a very compelling comparison as he was similarly limited by T.J. Hockenson in his career at Iowa. So while Washington does not boast the most complete profile in this class, he remains an intriguing, high-upside pick in this year’s dynasty rookie drafts.

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