‘Unbelievable upside’: What to make of late-season surge for tight end Darnell Washington
Over the final two games of the 2020 season, Georgia made it a point to get freshman tight end Darnell Washington more involved in the passing game. The reasons as to why are curious for a number of reasons.
Washington did more than flash his potential in the final two games of his freshman season for Georgia. He had seven targets, catching five and drawing a pass interference penalty on another. He picked up 107 yards on those catches.
Before you start screaming, yes it is a two-game sample size. But like so many other receiving options, Washington became more productive once JT Daniels became the starting quarterback.
Washington was also in his first season at the college level. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken took notice of the late-season improvements the 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end made in his game.
“As he’s progressed and we’ve gotten more and more comfortable at quarterback, obviously we tried to get him involved a little bit more at Missouri as the game progressed,” Monken said. “I do think he’s got an unbelievable upside.”
Monken noted how raw Washington was coming into the Georgia program but also praised him and how he handled his first season in Athens. It also didn’t help the 5-star tight end that he needed knee surgery upon arriving at Georgia. Or that he was doing all this while also dealing with a pandemic.
Washington also wasn’t the only tight end Georgia had to get involved this season. Tre’ McKitty played in seven games this season, while John FitzPatrick actually led the position group in catches with 10 and had a touchdown to open the season against Arkansas.
“It is hard at times because we did have Tre’ McKitty who came here,” Monken said. “With Fitz and him, trying to get the guys on the field to maximize their measurable skill set, what they do as a young player. Try not to overload Darnell early on.”
But in the past two games against Missouri and Cincinnati, Washington had 107 yards. That’s more than FitzPatrick and one yard less than McKitty did. Washington averaged a team-best 23.7 yards per catch this season. In the Peach Bowl, you saw why he’s been billed as a match-up nightmare, as he looked like a dad trying to be taken down by his kids in a backyard football game.
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In a normal set of circumstances, we’d be spending a not insignificant part of the offseason talking about his development. But there’s only one ball to go around, and Georgia also has young options like Jermaine Burton, Arian Smith and George Pickens.
“I got really good running backs. If you asked them, I promise you they’d want more touches,” Monken said. “For a while everybody was on my ass not getting to George. Then Jermaine makes some plays, everybody wants to throw it to Jermaine.”
There’s also the looming possibility of Arik Gilbert. Like Washington, he was a 5-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle only Gilbert was ranked even higher. He also put up better numbers in his freshman season at LSU, as he caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns.
But Gilbert is now in the transfer portal and the Bulldogs were very much a contender for his services as a recruit. If Georgia does land him it will undoubtedly have an impact on Washington’s development.
But it would also give Georgia another weapon and make an offense that showed real promise over the final four games even more dangerous.
You know what is better than a nightmare matchup at tight end? Two of them.
“You’re hopeful we have enough skill players that they have to defend the whole field, and all the players on the field are capable of making plays, which is a sign of a really good offense,” Monken said. “The best offenses have that in terms of weapons, tight ends, wideouts, and running backs, which gives you the opportunity to take advantage of mismatches and make them defend the field.”
Under Kirby Smart, Georgia will always push to add more talent. The hope is that whether or not Gilbert comes, Washington will push his game to the point where people are finally satisfied with how much a tight end is used.
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