Today’s fantasy football rookie roundup is going to focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers only drafted one fantasy football-relevant player, but the guy they drafted is a doozy. Darnell Washington was one of the most talked about tight end prospects in the draft, with multiple draftniks ranking him among the best tight ends in a very deep draft class. Yet despite elite athleticism and solid college production from the best school in the country, he was the eighth tight end drafted this year. The question all of us football nerds have is why?
FULL PITTSBURGH DRAFT RESULTS
|2||1||Joey Porter, Jr.||CB||Penn State|
|7||24||Cory Trice, Jr.||CB||Purdue|
Round 3, Pick 93 Overall: Darnell Washington, Tight End, Georgia (6’7” 269 lbs)
TE1: Pat Freiermuth
TE2: Zach Gentry
TE3: Darnell Washington
TE4: Connor Heyward
If I’m being honest, after breaking down his game, I really did not understand the hype for Darnell Washington. He is a big, athletic boy based on his RAS score. Washington had a 9.88, which ranks him as one of the most athletic tight ends ever to declare for the draft. But that athleticism never seemed to translate on the field. For as big as he is, I always felt like he should be stronger. I watched Bijan dragging guys his size or bigger down the field on runs, but I never saw that with Washington despite a significant size advantage.
For a guy his size, Washington should be a better blocker. When I watched Washington lined up inside as a blocker, he looked incredibly tentative. I don’t know if Washington was confused about his assignments or just wasn’t interested in blocking. I’m inclined to believe it was struggling with assignments because Washington was a much more willing blocker in space. If he was leading a runner, he actively engaged. The effort was there, but the technique wasn’t always clean. You might wonder why I’m even bothering with scouting his blocking since we are talking about fantasy football. It’s simple: If Darnell Washington wants to see the field in the NFL, he needs to be able to block.
When it comes to receiving, there are some things Darnell Washington does really well and others that I wanted to see more of. I want to start off by talking about Darnell Washington’s hands. Because, man, can that dude catch. From a receiving standpoint, I found myself loving this part of his game. He is incredibly talented at using his size as a weapon against opponents and using his frame to box guys out. However, his route running was just okay. He knows how to find a zone, but his release off the line of scrimmage is pretty average. One thing that annoyed me is I never saw him chip a defender while running a route. I think Washington is going to be a guy who only sees the field in the red zone as a match-up nightmare for defenders.
If we look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers use their tight ends, Pat Freiermuth was on the field for 64% of the team’s snaps. The next highest snap share came from Zach Gentry, who was on the field for 50% of the team’s snaps. Pat Freiermuth is very firmly entrenched as the starting tight end for the Steelers. He had the 5th most receptions, 6th most targets, and 6th most receiving yards among tight ends in 2022. If Darnell Washington wants to see the field, he has to replace Gentry. The problem is that Gentry was mainly used as a blocker. Gentry only saw 17% of the tight end target share for the Steelers and only 4% of the targets on the overall offense. So even if Washington takes Gentry’s spot, there is no real path to fantasy relevance.
2023 FANTASY FOOTBALL OUTLOOK
When discussing the opportunities of tight ends for fantasy football redrafts, it is important to remember that they rarely have any fantasy football relevance. The best rookie TE in fantasy last year was Chigoziem Okonkwo, and he finished the season as the TE24 with 32 catches for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns. The problem is Darnell Washington is not as fast as Chig. If he has any fantasy relevance in 2023, it will be based on red-zone targets. This doesn’t even factor in the fact that the very talented Pat Freiermuth is ahead of him on the depth chart. A lot of things have to go wrong for the Pittsburgh Steelers and go right for Darnell Washington for him to gain fantasy relevance. He is definitely someone to monitor for the future, though.