Darnell Washington draft profile

The Ultimate Predator

The huge TE from Georgia, Darnell Washington, makes me think of the supersized Predators from the Predator movie franchise sequels. Keegan Michael Key appeared in one of those films. Washington is so highly regarded by draft experts that he could be the best TE prospect since Hingle McCringleberry. Which means the Detroit Lions are the team most likely to get him.

I don't understand the fascination experts have with Washington. I think he's an overrated player. He reminds me of Brandon Manumaleuna, who was drafted by the Rams in the 4th round in 2001. Manumaleuna was never much of a receiving threat, especially in the Mike Martz system, but he was a good blocker. At times, he was like having a 6th offensive lineman on the field.

In 2006, the Rams decided that Manumaleuna's performance wasn't justifying his salary, so they made TE a draft priority. Attacking this "roster need", they drafted Joe Klopfenstein in the 2nd round. He was the 3rd TE off the board. Marcedes Lewis, who is the player Washington says he models his game after and who he regards as his NFL comp, was the 2nd TE drafted that year, the 28th overall pick. In the 3rd round, the Rams drafted another TE, Dominique Byrd out of USC. After picking up two tight ends in the draft, the Rams traded Manumaleuna to the Chargers in exchange for a 4th round pick.

The strategy had very questionable results. Manumaleuna continued to be a solid blocking TE (but with very little value as a receiver) spending 4 seasons with the Chargers and one year with the Bears. Both Klopfenstein and Byrd were disappointments. The DE the Rams drafted with the extra 4th round pick, Victor Adeyanju, was just an okay contributor, never getting more than 2 sacks in any season with the Rams. Another chapter in the "dark age" decade for the Rams.

Heads Carolina, Tails Los Angeles

One reason I'm not high on Washington is that if he were in the same draft as 2 TEs who currently are Carolina Panthers, I'd draft both of the Carolina guys ahead of Washington.

Tommy Tremble was a 3rd round pick in 2021, the 83rd overall selection. Tremble was a great blocker at Notre Dame, but had limited receiving production. Experts thought that he had substantial upside to develop into a better receiver. Some said he was the next George Kittle. Tremble has struggled so far in the NFL. He has yet to gain at least 200 receiving yards in a season, had a 55.2 PFF grade as a rookie and only a 49.5 PFF grade his 2nd year. I gave Tremble a 4th round grade that year, saying that the 2nd round was too early for the Rams to target him, but suggesting that he could be in play in the compensatory 3rd round area if he were still on the board.

Ian Thomas was the very first pick in the 4th round in 2018. Lance Zierlein had a 2nd to 3rd round projection on him, with an "eventual plus starter" grade, comparing him to Jermaine Gresham. LZ said that Thomas had "man strength" to be an in-line blocker, was an ascending talent, just needed coaching and more experience, was humble, focused, good football character, was physical after the catch, could stiff arm defenders, ran a limited route tree and was raw, but talented. If you watch his college highlights, he made some amazing catches.

Thomas had a difficult childhood. One of 10 children, his mom died when he was 8 and his dad died the following year when he was 9. Essentially raised by his older siblings, the kids moved around from home to home.

Carolina originally held the draft slot immediately ahead of where the Rams drafted Joe Noteboom in the 3rd round, but they traded down with the Packers. The Panthers took the extra pick they got and used it to trade up into the compensatory part of the 4th round to get an EDGE rusher, who had a career high 5 sacks in 2022 with a 59.3 PFF grade. Their trade partner in that move was the Rams.

With the pick acquired from Carolina, the Rams took Micah Kiser. The extra late round pick acquired by the Rams in the trade became Trevon Young. After all of that moving around, none of the teams "won" those trades. Almost none of the players drafted by the Packers, Panthers and Rams turned out to be stars. Noteboom is arguably the best player out of that entire group.

His last year in college, Ian Thomas had 25 catches for 376 yards and 5 TDs. In the NFL, he has never had more than 333 receiving yards in any season. He has 4 career TDs in 5 years.

2018: 333 rec yards, 53.3 PFF grade

2019: 136 rec yards, 51.8 PFF grade

2020: 145 rec yards, 42.8 PFF grade

2021: 188 rec yards, 52.1 PFF grade

2022: 197 rec yards, 49.6 PFF grade

Thomas has consistently graded out as one of the worst TEs in the NFL. He is considered to be a blocking TE, but has very limited production as a receiver. Despite the disappointing results, Carolina still gave him a 3 year $16.5 million contract prior to the 2022 season, seemingly expecting him to breakout to a higher level. By average salary, the deal made Thomas the 16th highest paid TE in the NFL. After another down year, Thomas agreed to a paycut to stay with the team for 2023. With Tremble and Thomas failing to develop into plus starters, Carolina signed Hayden Hurst in free agency, paying him a salary of $7.25 million. The hope is that Hurts will give them better receiving production.

Some aspects of Washington's game also remind me of Crockett Gillmore, who was one of the last picks in the compensatory section of the 3rd round pick in 2014. Gillmore was 6'6'' tall, 260 pounds with 33 3/4'' arms and 10 3/8'' hands. I liked him as a prospect. He was a very good blocking TE. In 2015, he had a promising season with 33 catches for 412 yards and 4 TDs, with a 75.9 PFF grade, but he suffered a back injury late in the year. More injuries followed in 2016 and 2017, including a knee injury that cost him the entire 2017 season. Attempting to make the Ravens roster as an offensive lineman in 2018, Gillmore gained 40 pounds, bulking up to 305 pounds, but didn't make the squad.

Repeating myself just for emphasis, if Washington and Ian Thomas were in the same draft, I would pick Thomas ahead of Washington. Since Thomas has been one of the worst TEs in the league, this makes me skeptical about why so many draft boards and experts have Darnell Washington ranked as a 1st round prospect.


Name: Darnell Washington. Turns 22 years old in August. Early entrant, true junior.

School: Georgia. Studied health and physical education.

Size: 6'6 1/2'' tall, 264 pounds, 34 3/8'' arms, 11'' hands, 83 3/4'' wingspan. 4.64 second (40 time), 1.57 second split, 31'' vert jump, 10'2'' broad jump, 4.08 second shuttle, 21 bench reps.

Reportedly has the largest wingspan and the 2nd largest hand size ever recorded for a TE at the Combine. Washington had the 3rd fastest shuttle time for any player at any position at the Combine, including WRs, CBs and RBs. He did the 4th most bench reps among TEs, the top 3 guys all tied at 23 reps. He ran the 6th fastest 40 yard dash, but his 10 yard split time was tied for 2nd best.

5 star recruit, one of the top recruits in the nation.

Washington had a tough childhood. His father abandoned the family when he was 6 years old. He's the youngest of 8 kids. His mom worked hard to try to support the family, but they struggled with financial insecurity, frequently moving from place to place and Washington had to constantly switch schools. At one point, his mom was in a car accident, hospitalized and unable to work, Darnell and his brother were in high school and had so little food that they would get leftovers from their classmates at school just so they'd have something to eat for lunch.

He says that as a youth football player he was a RB, LT, WR, a 2 way player in HS, he played both TE and DE.

Had a daughter when he was a junior in high school. Also has a 2nd daughter born while he was in college. Likes music, played bass in orchestra and the guitar.

On a state basketball championship team. Did shot put.

2022 (13 games): 28-454-2

2021: 10-154-1

2020: 7-166

Career: 45-774-3 with 27 games started.

Zero career fumbles. Was a blocker on FG kick unit.

Compares himself to Marcedes Lewis [Considered at one time to be perhaps the best blocking TE in the NFL, Lewis only has one NFL season where he's had at least 550 receiving yards. His final year at UCLA, Lewis had 58-741-10, so that one season is better than Washington's career receiving stats at UGA.] Easy going, respectful, humble in interviews. Looked more comfortable and polished at the Combine, but in some of his other interviews he's very soft spoken. Says he takes pride in his blocking, but had to work at it and wasn't a good blocker when he first got to UGA. Said that Oregon was his best game of the season.

Had foot injury, missing the first 4 games of the 2021 season. Had foot injury and missed spring 2022 practice. Lower body injury vs Ohio State, believed to be some type of ankle injury, limited going into the National Championship game vs TCU. In one of the games I watched he seemed to be running slower than normal, making me wonder if he had an injury, but I couldn't find any report saying he had any limitation, so I don't know, maybe he just really is that slow. Is that a red flag when a guy runs so slow that you think he must be hurt? Or did he maybe have some type of foot issue that was never disclosed to the public?

ESPN 3rd TE, 32nd overall

CBSSports 5th TE, 60th overall

Daniel Jeremiah 3rd TE, 22nd overall

Lance Zierlein 4th TE, 35th overall

PFN 3rd TE, 49th overall

PFF 70th overall

Drafttek 4th TE, 52nd overall

Shane Hallam 46th overall

Brian Bosarge 25th overall

Daniel Jeremiah: Traditional in-line TE. Massive physical specimen, outstanding play strength and toughness. Can power through press coverage with upper body strength. Builds up speed down seam. Enormous target for QB. A little clunky getting out of breaks, limiting separation, but doesn't matter, because he can use big body to shield off defenders. Some "wow" contested catches where defenders bounce off frame. Shockingly fast and nimble after catch. Dominant run blocker. Latches on and displaces DEs with ease. Tremendous overall value, functions as 6th offensive lineman in run game and a moving billboard in passing game.

Lance Zierlein: 6.38 draft grade (eventual plus starter), Darren Fells comp. Rare size and power. Sloppy overall technique. Effective moving defenders when centered on block. Must improve his footwork and hand usage, otherwise NFL defenders will slip away. Plods into routes, but above average focus. A handful to tackle. Could be dominant run blocker with better technique, potential offensive tackle conversion. Massive frame, shredded physique. Power to torque and displace. Creates advantage near goalline. Adjusts to off target throws, catches in congestion. Footwork into block fits needs work. Wide hands. Waist bender and head ducker at POA. 2nd level angles lack accuracy. Stiff kneed, limiting speed to attack seam. Unable to sink and break off underneath routes.

Ian Cummings, PFN: Absolute road grader. Extends hands, body control for high throws, diving catches on low passes, high points the ball, strong hands, soft hands. Can use physicality to beat jams in press. Difficult to tackle. Consistently finishes blocks. Incredibly strong and aggressive. Elite power, good pad level. Understands angles. Holds anchor to seal. Competent pass blocker. Phenomenal grip strength. Lacks elite burst and long speed. Won't generate chunk plays. Lumbering mover in space. Slow striding target. Stiff hips, below average change of direction. Drops balls, claps hands catching. Marginal suddenness and foot speed. High hips. Very limited route tree. Often has to be schemed open. Not a slam dunk prospect. Might never be a true TE1. Could become an above-average starter. Day 2 prospect.

Steelers Depot: High level blocking TE. Monster frame. Wrecking ball after catch. Deceptively fast in straight line. Hands catcher. High points ball. Capable pass blocker. Low receiving production. Limited route tree. Doesn't create separation. Struggles as a run blocker when he has slow hands or when he plays in front of his toes. Slow to accelerate. Can be slow off the ball. 2nd round grade.

SI: Massive frame, ideal functional strength, exceptional arm length. Imposed will on defensive linemen. Effortlessly seals defenders. Occasionally finishes defenders to the ground. Plenty of pop in hands. Athletic as lead blocker, comfortable as pull blocker. Overwhelms DBs as blocker.


About one year younger than an average draft prospect.

Gigantic hands. Huge frame and wingspan. The Ed "Too Tall" Jones version of a tight end. Arms that seem to go on forever, just engulfs defenders at times when blocking, swallowing them up, like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. His sheer size can overwhelm his opponent when he's blocking at the POA.

Very nimble feet relative to his size.

Versatile alignments at UGA. Lined up as in-line TE, split out wide by himself as solo receiver on one side of the field, as wing and used as move blocker, or out wide to be blocker for WR screens.

Relatively soft hands catching the ball. Good body coordination, can adjust to the flight of the pass.

Can extend arms and make hand catches away from his body on passes that are low and off target. Comfortable reaching up and catching balls over his head.

Took a huge hit after making catch in traffic and held onto the ball.

Flashes elite drive blocking potential. When he bends his knees and gets proper leverage, the defender has no chance, he can completely obliterate CBs and drive them backwards on skates. Able to wash down EDGE defenders on zone blocks. Demolished DE on down block with powerful hit from side. Heavy chip block. On double teams can drive the defender inside.

Blocking on the move in space, bullies and overwhelms smaller opponents. Explodes into CBs and drives them backwards. Knocks down DBs. Road grader who can steamroll CBs. Buries CBs into the turf. Knockback power can blast CBs off their feet. Delivered multiple shoves to CB to aggressively finish block.

Good size, length and bulk for pass blocking duties.

Can torque and toss defenders to the side on kickout blocks.

Has build up speed, so if it is a screen or long run by the RB, once the TE is about 10 to 15 yards past the LOS, he can run fast enough to stay in front of the RB and lead the way, taking out any 3rd level defenders that might be remaining, potentially springing the RB for a long TD.

Special teams ability, was on FG unit.

LZ's idea of trying to make Washington an offensive lineman isn't crazy. Some elite NFL left tackles played TE in college. It would all but end his career as a TE to try it, but since LT is so important, a team might try teaching him to play LT and have him bulk up, especially if his progress at TE stalls down the road. Might be odd to say, but Darnell Washington possibly is one of the best left tackle prospects in this year's draft class.


Too big to be a TE. Instead of his enormous size being an advantage, sometimes it is the complete opposite, it becomes a substantial limitation. He has very little quickness, limiting him as a receiver and when trying to block moving targets. He has a high center of gravity, making it challenging for him to maintain proper leverage on blocks, he has to lean over or bend his knees and can't consistently get his pads lower without compromising his balance and posture. When hunched over trying to block, he can be easily beaten by defenders with quick hands.

Washington had almost no receiving production prior to 2022. In the 2022 season he played in 13 games (he was injured going into the National Championship game, so we could cut him some slack for that game) and in 9 of those games he had 2 or fewer catches. He had at least 4 catches in only 2 of the games he played. Prior to 2022, he didn't have a single game where he had at least 4 catches. So, his entire 3 year UGA career, he had a grand total of 2 games where he caught at least 4 balls. Talk about limited production. He had very little impact as a receiving weapon in college.

Only has 3 career receiving touchdowns in 3 seasons. One of those TDs was on a play where no defender covered him, so the QB threw the ball to him as he was standing all alone in the end zone. Some draft expert think he is a red zone threat. How is this guy a red zone threat? He did catch a 2 point conversion, so I guess we could credit him for one more. I don't consider him to be a great red zone receiving target, because he can't separate from defenders.

Completely unable to create any separation whatsoever as a receiver. Every single catch I saw was either a "system catch" where he was schemed open, or it was a contested catch situation where the defender was next to him in coverage. Not only unable to separate on his designed route, if the QB extends, TE has little ability at uncovering and working open to get away from his defender. Can't sink his hips to burst in or out of breaks. Essentially zero ability to run an effective whip route. Not fluid where he has to pretend to block, then pivot out and try to release into a route. This makes him a poor scheme fit for the Rams, because McVay's system uses misdirection where the TE needs to change direction and run horizontally across the field and this doesn't suit Washington's game well. He's a stiff guy suited for a power based offense, he's not built for a fluid and flowing, motion based playbook.

Not a leaper, doesn't have much vertical jumping ability to catch. Often doesn't need to, since he's so tall, but his effective catch radius isn't as big as you'd think compared to say a 6'4'' TE, because if the shorter guy can jump higher than the 6'7'' guy, their actual relative ability to go up and get high passes ends up being about the same.

Slow acceleration off the LOS. Unable to get into his route quickly enough for NFL tempo. On a very basic play where off of sift action he has to run to the flat, he sometimes doesn't even have enough short area burst to get to his landmark in time to present the QB with a good target, he runs too slow.

Lack of burst and speed limits his value as downfield receiver. He simply can't run fast enough to stretch the field and threaten getting over the top of the defense.

Doesn't demonstrate good feel for how to read the coverage and make sight adjustments. Red zone 3rd down, defense shows 2 safeties deep pre-snap, but post snap it is single high safety in the middle of the field. The TE should run directly up the seam, but the TE drifts slightly towards the inside, which doesn't make any sense, because you're heading in the direction of the S.

Drops some easy catches. Dropped easy catch right on his hands on wheel route. Dropped very easy catch 5 yards from LOS on spot route. Not as good at contested catches as the experts seem to think. It is as if they only watched his highlights.

Not a quick twitch athlete. Can be late getting his head around and his hands up to catch the ball. This lack of quickness also sometimes results in him getting tangled up by jams at the LOS or by physical defenders in the middle of the route and TE isn't quick to disengage to stay on schedule with the timing of the route.

Heavy legged, both on routes and after the catch trying to run with the ball. Lacks quick burst after the catch to get away from defenders.

Inconsistent level of aggression and physicality after the catch. Sometimes will slow down and ease up into contact instead of barrelling through defenders like a bull.

When UGA was in obvious passing situations or in 2 minute drill, he was typically not on the field at all.

Very sloppy hand placements and footwork as blocker. Wild hands. Hand went directly to facemask of CB when blocking in space. Hugs LBs with arms around their back. Tackles defenders near LOS. Clotheslines defenders, because his angle entering his block fit is off. Tends to catch defenders instead of properly punching with his hands inside. Blocking on the move, his hands will go outside the frame of the defender. Tackled DE with his hand around defender's back. Awkward blocks could become holding penalties in the NFL.

Poor change of direction. Lacks agility as move blocker to adjust to quickness. Out in space, CBs sometimes very easily run around his block and he can't mirror their speed to cut them off. Even executing basic pre-snap motion behind the LOS, he doesn't show good change of direction.

Sometimes slow out of his stance. Pad level too high. Combination of not being quick out of his stance, not having the proper initial angle out of stance and being too tall so that he can't adjust to lower defenders results in him struggling to protect his inside gap on short yardage runs. Defenders can penetrate inside of him and get into the backfield.

Limited leg drive on blocks. Relies on his bulk, upper body strength and brute power to win blocks and bully opponents, doesn't have sound technique and body positioning. Base can narrow through engagement.

Making seal blocks, his anchor is leaky, because his center of gravity is too high. This resulted in him getting pushed backwards into the run lane. This wasn't a big deal at UGA, because in the college game there is so much open space for the RB, it often had no negative impact on the play. At the NFL level, if you cannot hold the lane open (e.g. Brian Allen getting shoved backwards) the RB is going to get stuffed, there is nowhere for him to go.

Will sometimes completely whiff as move blocker coming across the formation. Wildly lunges and whiffs trying to block LBs at 2nd level.

Not an explosive blocker in GL and short yardage run situations. Short 3rd down, shed at POA. Heads up block on DE, at POA, the DE wins leverage immediately of the snap, TE's pads too high, weak hand placements, misses grab attempt and can't fix his hold, stood up at LOS, then the DE rips under him, disengages, and tackles the RB. This guy's supposed to be a great in-line blocker? He just got completely schooled right at the POA.

Takes some poor blocking angles. Unable to find smart blocking angles climbing to the 2nd level. Doesn't slide his feet properly to protect the blocking angle on kickout block.

Not consistently aggressive. Frequently eases up and stops blocking prior to the whistle, even though the RB isn't down and is trying to gain more yardage. Doesn't finish blocks, sometimes content to just shield off the defender with his body, making no effort to push the defender backwards or aggressively lock him up so that he can't disengage from the block.

Unstable base as pass blocker, leading to him struggling to sustain the block and getting driven backwards towards the QB. Lets defenders get into his chest. Bent over, doesn't have proper posture. Initial punch not reliable and doesn't have fast hands to recover.

Average awareness as a blocker. Struggles to identify the proper defender to block if his assignment changes, sometimes even getting confused for no obvious reason. Completely overruns his blocking angle at times when blocking in space. Tunnel screen to WR, the TE is confused which CB he's supposed to block, he's looking at the deeper CB, but then reaches to his side and awkwardly grabs the closest CB, even though the LT has that guy covered. Not only does it create a potential holding penalty, but now the 2nd CB is completely unblocked and he tackles the WR.

Poor combo block, too high on DE, not fluid turn, then wild lunge at the LB, completely whiffing on 2nd level block, a miss that became important, because when the RB fumbles the ball, the LB he was supposed to block gets in on the action.

A "one trick pony" as a blocker, reputation built upon viral highlight plays, not based on play to play blocking consistency. Destroying CBs doesn't have much value in a team's blocking scheme. Consistently winning at the POA is what you really need from a blocking TE and Washington isn't really elite in that department. He has the potential to be an outstanding blocker, but he didn't prove at UGA that he's an elite blocker, his technique is too inconsistent and unreliable.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

4th round grade. (Darren Fells, UDFA 2013, Seahawks, UC Irvine)

I have no issue with LZ using Fells as the pro comp for Washington. I think it is a very good comparison. I just don't understand why it is worth a 1st round pick to acquire such a player.

Fells was a basketball player at UC Irvine. He played pro basketball overseas after college. When he decided to give the NFL a try, he was a 27 year old rookie. He didn't catch on with Seattle, but he spent his rookie year on Arizona's practice squad. His first NFL catch came against the Rams in 2014. The following 2 seasons he was the backup TE to Jermaine Gresham.

In 2015, Fells had 21 catches for 311 yards and 3 TDs. The following year he had 154 rec yards and one TD. In 2017, Fells played with Matthew Stafford in Detroit. He had 17 catches for 177 yards and 3 TDs. In 8 NFL seasons, Fells has never had at least 350 receiving yards in any season. There has only been 1 season in his NFL career where Fells has caught at least 5 TDs. He's considered to be a good blocker.

Darren Fells is a solid TE, he is by no means a "bad" player. During the period of his career where you'd characterize him as being a starter type contributor he had PFF season grades of 70, 63, 69, 65, 60.1 and 69.5. That's solid. A good blocking TE has some value to a team. For several years I've advocated for the Rams to try to acquire a blocking specialist to try to complement guys like Higbee and Gerald Everett, but we've never really added a player in that mold.

The issue is the Fells is a limited player. He doesn't give you much as a receiver. In my opinion, Fells would be a considerable step backwards from Tyler Higbee and I'm not by any means a huge Higbee fan.

In 2019, I was shocked when the Bengals drafted Drew Sample in the 2nd round, 52nd overall. I liked Sample, he was on my draft board as a prospect for the Rams to consider. Only, he was listed in about the 5th round range on my board. He was a blocking TE. Why would you draft a blocking TE in the 2nd round?

In 2020, CJ Uzomah suffered a season ending injury early in the year, thrusting Sample into a starting role. Sample had 40 catches for 349 yards and one TD. He had a 61.4 PFF grade. So, it isn't like Sample was a completely useless player. He just hasn't justified being drafted so early. He only has 1 career receiving TD. He got hurt and missed most of 2022.

Sample was drafted 9 slots before Taylor Rapp. He was the very next pick after AJ Brown and the pick right before Miles Sanders. It is worth noting that the Bengals originally held slot 42. They traded down with the Broncos (who wanted Drew Lock), giving the Bengals two extra picks, a 4th rounder and a 6th rounder. All of you who want the Rams to trade down in 2023, that's exactly what the Bengals did in 2019.

With the extra 4th rounder, the Bengals drafted Renell Wren, who I recall being a popular player on TST. Wren hardly played at all for the Bengals. In 2022, he was a PS player for the Steelers. In the 6th round, the Bengals drafted perhaps my favorite late round RB prospect in that draft, Trayveon Williams. He spent 4 years on their roster, so at least they got something out of the pick, but as a deep backup he hardly played on offense, playing mostly on special teams.

By trading down, the Bengals missed out on two of the same OL prospects that the Rams did in that draft (McCoy, Jenkins), a costly mistake, because the Bengals have struggled with poor OL play, the biggest reason they lost to the Rams in the Super Bowl. The problem wouldn't have been fixed if they had passed on Sample for the next OL prospect, because Max Sharping at guard was a draft bust for the Houston Texans. Ditto for Micahel Deiter in the 3rd round. So, that relatively minor trade (they only moved down 10 spots) cost the Bengals a great opportunity to improve their OL.

In my opinion, the Rams targeting Darnell Washington at pick 36 makes absolutely no sense. He's not a great prospect. If you need a blocking TE, he could be a good candidate. In today's NFL, why would you draft a blocking TE before about the 4th to 5th round? Don't do that. It is a silly idea. Would we trade a 2nd round pick to Carolina to acquire Ian Thomas or Tommy Tremble? Maybe Snead should call the Panthers and see if they are so down on Tremble that they would be willing to give him up for almost nothing. Like a late rounder, a 2024 late round pick or a simple swap of late round picks. I'd rather explore options like that as opposed to reaching too early for Washington.