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Arik Gilbert may have been a want for Georgia football, but he wasn’t a need for tight end room
Florida always made a lot more sense as a possible destination for Arik Gilbert than Georgia. Kyle Pitts was a game-wrecking force for Florida this past season. The Gators also lose their top three pass-catchers this offseason. Florida can truly feature him in its offense next season.
Georgia realistically couldn’t do that. Not with George Pickens returning at wide receiver. Or both Zamir White and James Cook coming back at running back. There’s only one ball to go around and JT Daniels and Todd Monken were going to have enough trouble satisfying all of Georgia’s skill talent in 2021.
That’s what made Gilbert’s decision to transfer to Florida the rational one. He announced the move on Sunday. And while Georgia seemed like a possible landing spot due to reports of Gilbert being home-sick at LSU, the on-field fit was questionable to say the least.
After careful consideration I have decided to commit to the University of Florida. This is the best situation for me and I’m excited to join the family. 💯
— AG2 (@arik_gilbert) January 31, 2021
Georgia hasn’t gotten the most out of tight ends under Kirby Smart. Charlie Woerner was taken in the sixth round of last season’s NFL draft. Tre’ McKitty seems poised to be taken in this year’s class, especially after a standout week at the Senior Bowl. In five seasons under Smart, Georgia has yet to have a tight end catch as many passes as the 35 Gilbert caught as a freshman.
Woerner and McKitty each had fewer than 10 catches as seniors at Georgia. Talent hasn’t been the issue at Georgia at the tight end position. The issues can be chalked up to struggling quarterback play and changing offensive schemes.
In 2021 Monken will be back calling plays. Daniels will be back to spread the ball around. There’s more stability around the Georgia offense than there has been in quite some time.
There’s also a good bit of talent already at tight end as well. Todd Hartley, Georgia’s tight ends coach, has done a great job of acquiring talent in recent seasons. That’s part of the reason Georgia can weather the blow of Gilbert going to Florida. He may have been a want for many, but he wasn’t a need given how Georgia has recruited at the position in recent seasons.
This brings us to Darnell Washington. Like Gilbert, he was a 5-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Georgia signed him out of Las Vegas. His first season at Georgia was a curious one, for a number of reasons.
At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Washington is an obvious mismatch. That was apparent in his first college game, as he hauled in a 26-yard pass.
Washington then had just a single catch in Georgia’s seven games played in October and November.
After Gilbert opted-out and his transfer out of LSU seemed imminent in early December, Washington became a bigger part of the offense. Washington caught three passes against Missouri while also drawing a pass interference penalty.
Then he added another two catches against Cincinnati, with one of the catch and runs looking like he was Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One.
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) January 1, 2021
Following the Missouri game, Smart made a rather interesting comment about tight end usage, especially with Gilbert potentially being on the move.
“You can never have enough good tight ends in the SEC,” Smart said. “They’re big, they’re athletic, they can catch the ball. There’s so many things they can do. It’s one of those things that we want as many as we can get and we want to get them the ball.”
Smart stressed that Georgia had been trying to find ways to get Washington involved all season after the win and how we can frustrate opposing defenses.
Georgia’s offensive coordinator and play-caller Todd Monken shared his thoughts on Washington and how he developed over the course of his freshman season.
“Darnell has from the moment that I saw him, you can certainly see the upside of a big, athletic, tough young man,’ Monken said prior to the Peach Bowl. “You can just see that. What his upside can be as a raw player. And, to boot, he is an awesome kid. He is an awesome kid. Always smiling. Got a great disposition about him.”
Monken acknowledged that McKitty and junior John FitzPatrick were ahead of Washington on the depth chart, which played a part in his development.
Because of their presence, Georgia didn’t feel the need to ask Washington to do too much early. That’s why Washington didn’t produce the same numbers that Gilbert did, as he caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns in just eight games.
The Georgia offensive coordinator felt more comfortable giving Washington a bigger role in Georgia’s offense as the season came to a close.
“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,” Washington said.
“I do think he’s got an unbelievable upside.”
Washington isn’t the lone tight end with upside, as Georgia add in 2021 signee Brock Bowers at the position. Bowers was the No. 3 ranked tight end in the 2021 recruiting cycle and is already on Georgia’s campus where he’s made a quick impression in winter workouts. He joins FitzPatrick, Ryland Goede and Brett Seither to make up the Georgia tight end room for next season.
Washington now figures to be the focal point of the position for Georgia in 2021. He might not produce the same statistical numbers as Pitts or Gilbert, but there’s a realistic chance he’s more productive in year two than Georgia’s tight ends have been in recent seasons.
Gilbert may go on to have a stellar career at Florida. It won’t help that the Bulldogs will now see him on an annual basis, should his transfer waiver be approved by both the NCAA and SEC. But for the 2021 team, which has more pressing needs in the secondary, he was a luxury item.
With Washington and the rest of Georgia’s tight end talent, the Bulldogs have more than enough potential in the room. It just needs to convert some of that potential and talent into production.
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