Prior to this year's NFL Combine, I was fully aware of how deep this year's class was going to be at defensive back, offensive line, and defensive line; three positions that are generally coveted among Pittsburgh Steelers fans. What I did not expect was how talented this year's tight end class would be.
This year's group of tight ends was one of the most diverse in terms of physical frames and athletic abilities. For instance, one of the standouts in this group was Zack Kuntz out of Old Dominion. At 6'7, 255 lbs, his size was apparent, but even more impressive was his athleticism. In 40', he posted a time of 4.55 with a 1.57 10-yard split, a 40.5-inch vertical jump, and a 10’ 8' broad jump. He was certainly athletic, but what impressed me the most was his blocking abilities in the sled, and more specifically, his ability to keep his pad level low considering how tall and lengthy he was.
Then you have Sam Laporta out of Iowa, who was essentially the Hawkeyes offense and the best tight end in the Big Ten conference in 2022. Physically, he was shorter in stature at 6'3, but he was just as athletic with terrific hands. Though his route tree is basic, Laporta is a reliable target with good ball security. What he lacks in agility, he makes up for with his physicality and ability to get yards after contact.
Yet, if there was one player who changed my perspective on this year's tight end class, it was Georgia's Darnell Washington. There have been few times I have seen a player of his size (6'7, 265 lbs.) do the things I witnessed. His 40-yard time of 4.64 seconds with a 1.57-second split was unexpected considering his frame. On the field, he did things that solidified himself as a potential first-round pick. In the sled drill, when others had difficulty moving it a few yards, he was able to move it effortlessly. In the 'gauntlet', his catch radius was on full display as he moved through with speed and efficiency. Washington would later punctuate one of the best individual performances with a stellar one-handed catch, while somehow keeping his feet inbound. That was the light-bulb moment for me.
As it stands, the Steelers have a decent tight end room that consists of Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, whose strength is as a blocker, and Connor Heyward, who is more of a tweener than a traditional tight end. Gentry is not the most reliable option offensively, and Freiermuth's style of play makes him prone to injuries, more specifically, concussions, of which he had suffered three in just two seasons. With all this noted, this type of tight end class is one we may not see again for a while. If I am Omar Khan, I would take a dive while the water is still warm.