One of the stalwarts of the back-to-back National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, gargantuan tight end Darnell Washington brings with him traits that appear to have been created in a laboratory. Standing tall at 6’7”, 265 lbs, he brings outstanding blocking ability and power to create mismatches not only as a target in the passing game but also in the run game.
At times underutilized in Georgia’s offense, Washington shows a lot of potential at the NFL level, but also some concerns. While he did not miss many games, several lower body injuries are worth a closer look to identify whether there are concerns moving forward.
Undisclosed injury, missed zero games.
Washington went through testing during pregame working out an unknown injury. He suited up but did not record any stats.
Foot surgery, side not specified, missed four games.
While practicing during the preseason, Washington suffered a minor fracture in his foot, requiring surgery.
It was reported that he would miss four-to-six weeks at the time of the injury. He missed six weeks total including the first four games, returning in early October.
There was not any additional information on the exact specifics of the procedure.
Foot injury, side not specified, missed spring practice.
During spring practices, he sustained another foot injury, keeping him out for the rest of the scheduled sessions. It’s not clear whether this was the same side from 2021 or if he required surgery.
Left ankle injury, missed zero games.
Washington suffered a left ankle injury in the semi-final game against Ohio State initially reported as a high-ankle sprain. It was later clarified as an ankle strain and soft tissue contusion.
He was able to return in the National Championship, securing one reception for 28 yards.
The big issues are the foot and ankle injuries as noted above. His foot injury that required surgery may have been as simple as a metatarsal fracture that required a small plate and screws to stabilize the area to ensure healing.
The ankle injury during the college playoffs appears unlucky and only highlighted because of the stage he was on at the time.
However, the other foot injury has some cause for concern due to the lack of information. To miss all of the spring practice is notable and not knowing if he required surgery then or if this was even the same foot should give teams pause.
They have done their homework on him regarding the medicals at the NFL Combine, but how does he project out? The big unknown is whether these were one-off injuries or if this is the trend of something more.
Looking at the research, most of the foot injuries in the NFL that warranted detailed analysis have involved Lisfranc sprains/fractures along with Jones’ and navicular fractures. Considering he returned in six weeks from his foot fracture in 2021, that ruled out a Lisfranc or Jones fracture as those carry longer time frames.
When I look at Washington, he compares very similarly to former first-round pick OJ Howard (Howard 6’6”, 250 lbs, Washington 6’7”, 265 lbs.). While there are plenty of players who have similar measurables, Howard’s injuries once he hit the NFL have been a mess.
Looking at Howard’s injury history after signing with Buffalo last offseason, it is littered with foot and ankle issues. Howard became a liability due to his availability despite being productive when he was healthy. One could make the argument that he has not lived up to his first-round selection.
While the details of Washington’s injuries are not as extensive as Howard’s, I can’t help but notice the resemblance. Howard is still playing and contributing, but he has lost a lot of the quickness he once had in his feet due to the injuries.
Will Washington exhibit similar issues due to being so big, and having difficulty getting his feet under him during blocking? Will the increased speed and demand of the game lead to further injury risk? How will his body respond to an increase in workload?
Considering the Bills once signed Howard, it suggests they would also be intrigued by Washington’s size.
Body Composition Comparables
Another consideration, once Washington is drafted, he will be among the largest tight ends in both height and weight. Looking at some of the injury histories of both of those types of players, he matches up height-wise with Donald Parham, 6’8” (Chargers), Zach Gentry, 6’8” (Steelers), Colby Parkinson, 6’7” (Seahawks), and Jelani Woods, 6’7” (Colts).
Weight-wise, he is similar to CJ Uzomah, 271 lbs. (Jets), Marcedes Lewis, 267 lbs. (Packers), Mo-Alie Cox, 267 lbs. (Colts), and Trevon Wesco, 267 lbs. (Bears).
Looking at these players, most of them have had some lower-body injury that has forced them to miss extensive time. Parkinson suffered a broken foot back in 2021 and Parham missed 11 total games due to a hamstring strain in 2022.
Uzomah suffered an Achilles tear that cost him most of the 2020 season and a calf injury in 2016 that cost him five games. Gentry had a significant knee sprain that cost him seven games in 2020. Wesco had an ankle injury that cost him four games in 2020.
Even Marcedes Lewis, battling Father Time since 2006 has been incredibly durable, appearing in at least 15 games each season but three. During those seasons, he suffered ankle and calf injuries costing him 19 games over four years between 2013-2016.
Of the group of players mentioned above, Cox and Woods have shown to be the most durable, missing minimal time with minor injuries, costing them no more than three games at a time.
When looking at the smaller and lighter players listed in the article, the worst of the injuries include Josiah Deguara suffering a torn ACL in 2020, and Taysom Hill sustaining a variety of injuries due to his positional versatility.
Additionally, Dan Arnold suffered an MCL sprain that cost him four games in 2021. Finally, MyCole Pruitt had a nasty ankle fracture dislocation in 2021 toward the end of the season. Injuries happen to everyone, but it appears there is a greater frequency with taller and heavier tight ends, at least from a missed time standpoint.
Though there are offensive linemen that are bigger than Washington and suffered injuries, they do not have to move athletically like a tight end.
It’s not guaranteed he will suffer further injury, but if he does, I anticipate that he could miss extended time, stunting his development and productivity. It’s important to note that every player listed above with the exception of Woods and Parham has been able to play a full season at some point in their career, but when the injuries hit, they hit hard.
The one unknown from looking from the outside is the exact details of the foot injuries.
Looking at other players including OJ Howard and body composition comparables, the injury concerns can’t be ignored. I view Washington as a boom-or-bust prospect. If he can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit. If injuries occur, they could really derail things. This has to be considered especially with how slow development is at the tight end position in the NFL.
Bigger, faster, and stronger may not be ideal in this instance.
While he is discussed as a first-round pick, I don’t see the value due to the concerns above. If he is there in the second round for Buffalo, it would be hard for him to pass up as long as the medicals check out. His prior medical history would not rule them out from selecting him in the second round based on prior trends, but there may be a better fit at a different position elsewhere.
Whenever and wherever Washington is selected, the hope would be that these are one-off injuries and he has a productive, healthy career.