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2023 NFL Draft

Tight End Logjam? How Steelers Plan to Fit Darnell Washington into Offense



Steelers Heyward Freiermuth

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a big splash by adding gigantic tight end Darnell Washington in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Washington had been expected to be taken about 60 picks before the Steelers nabbed him at No. 93 overall, and his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame is certain to make an impact on the field for the Steelers this fall.

But the Steelers didn’t necessarily need a tight end after retaining all three members of that position room from the 2022 team. So how will things shake out with Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward?

The addition of a fourth tight end left some wondering if that was precipitating an exit from one of the other members of the room. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The first change is that Heyward is going to be taking up some of the role of fullback Derek Watt, who will apparently not be re-signed. That makes sense, as the 5-foot-11 Heyward is a bit short for an in-line tight and as a former college running back, has ball-carrying skills that most tight ends do not.

The Steelers already utilized him a good bit in that kind of a role in 2022, include his game-sealing jet sweep against the Las Vegas Raiders, but expect there to be even more of that in his future in 2023 without Watt around.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s probably his body type, right?” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said on Saturday after the Steelers selected Washington. “What he can do, and we’ve got him as a tight end, but the things he can do, the way we can move him around, maybe not calling him a fullback, but I think his skill set fits that role.”

The Steelers also signed Iowa’s Monte Pottebaum, a more traditional fullback, as an undrafted free agent. So there will be some competition to be Watt’s replacement. But it sure seems likely that roster spot will be absorbed by the extra tight end, as Canada discussed roles for all four players.

He envisions Washington and Gentry serving as in-line blockers, with the addition of Washington allowing the Steelers to move Freiermuth into more of an exclusively receiving role than he’s been used in the past.

“I think Pat’s a different type of tight end and those two guys,” he said. “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.”

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