All eyes are on the NFL Draft now that free agency has taken a backseat after a chaotic first couple of weeks. The Dallas Cowboys hold the No. 26 overall pick, and there’s no telling which direction they go after they addressed their foremost weaknesses by trading for Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore.
Drafting a tight end in the first round is a polarizing subject given the unfriendly returns. Nearly all of the league’s premier tight ends were drafted in Round 2 or beyond, but Dallas can afford to select a Dalton Schultz replacement early after he inked a modest one-year deal with the Texans as a free agent.
Several Cowboys talking heads have pointed to Georgia’s Darnell Washington as their ideal target for the No. 26 pick should they go tight end.
Utah’s Dalton Kincaid and Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer are other potential targets, but Washington’s freakish athleticism and overall upside as a pass-catcher, blocker, and creating yards after the catch make him worthy of a first-round pick even though there’s room for development.
With that, Cowboys fans will surely love hearing the former Bulldog is one of the team’s official top-30 pre-draft visits.
Georgia TE Darnell Washington joins Cowboys list of top-30 visits
Incredibly, Washington’s bizarro measureables don’t do any justice to how ginormous he is. At 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, the Georgia product can serve as a sixth offensive lineman — essentially a tackle — who can get busy in the passing game and make defenders miss after the catch in the open field.
Washington only caught 45 passes last season, but he forced 14 missed tackles and averaged 7.5 yards after the catch per reception, according to PFF. He also logged 17.2 yards per catch over his three years in Athens. What the 21-year-old lacks in target volume he more than makes up for in splash plays.
Here are some of Washington’s best highlights at Georgia.
Washington seemingly will get more comfortable as a pass-catcher with time, but his upside is undeniable, as evidenced by that highlight montage. Where he projects to be an immediate stud, however, is as a run-blocker, as evidenced by his 81.3 run-blocking grade in 2022, via PFF. Not bad for a “raw” prospect.
It shouldn’t be glossed over that Dallas also met with Drew Sanders. Taking off-ball linebackers in the first round is almost the equivalent of drafting running backs in the first round, but Sanders is a legitimate top-32 prospect.
Sanders works sideline-to-sideline without breaking a sweat and rushes the quarterback like an EDGE, where he played at Alabama before transferring to Arkansas. In 2022, he compiled 63 tackles, 39 pressures and 11 sacks.
The former Razorback feels unlikely to taken at No. 26 overall but it speaks volumes Dallas is doing its due diligence on the very best the 2023 draft has to offer.
Washington, on the other hand, seems in play in Round 1.