If you are surprised that the Pittsburgh Steelers landed Georgia TE Darnell Washington at #93, near the end of the third round, you’re not alone. Projected to go as early as the first round, Washington tumbled into the back end of Day Two.
When players fall to that degree, it’s often for one of two reasons. One, concerns over character. Two, concerns over the medical. With Washington, it appears to be the latter. According to multiple reports, including ones from Albert Breer and Ian Rapoport, Washington fell due to medical concerns over his knee. According to Rapoport, Washington had swelling in his knee at the Combine, leading some teams to remove him from their draft board.
This Friday night tweet by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who spoke to one scout, confirmed that Washington’s medical concerns “zonked him.”
Washington was asked during his post-selection conference call with the media about the reports out there that there are some medical red flags for teams related to him. He was also asked how much did teams look into that during the pre-draft process and what were they concerned with.
“I feel great, man, something they probably had concern with is probably the knees because I am tall and a bigger guy but, they’re talking about some knee swelling, Washington said. “For me, I’ve never had injuries with my knees, knock on wood. I never tore anything in the knee. I had surgery on the right one, but it was just to clean some cartilage up. There was no tear, no break, no fracture, no nothing.
“For people to say that, I mean, all the concerns, at the end of the day, it’s just teams taking risks on us players and no other teams wanted to take a risk. For me, a great player, and that’s what Pittsburgh got.”
It’s unclear the exact nature of those concerns. In August of 2021, Washington underwent what was reported to be foot surgery In March of 2022, Washington was listed with a hockey-like lower body injury and missed spring ball.
But as Fowler’s tweet notes, the same scout laughed off the medical concern and believes Washington will play in the league “for a long time.” It’s worth noting Washington went through his Combine workout, including drills, and all of his testing, running a 4.64 40 at 264 pounds.
Speaking with Pittsburgh media after the selection, Washington said his knee is healthy and brushed off concerns over poor medicals.
For Pittsburgh, trading down 13 spots to pick up a fourth-round selection and still landing Washington is worth the risk. The uniqueness of his game is a gamble to take. Assuming good health, he can come in immediately and strongly challenge to be the #2 tight end. It’ll improve the Steelers’ run blocking and get them back to their roots as a physical team.
After attending Georgia’s Pro Day, the Steelers brought Washington in for a pre-draft visit. Ostensibly, that was in part to re-check him medically and also for him to get to know TEs Coach Alfredo Roberts. Pittsburgh was clearly comfortable enough to take him at #93, a lower-risk gamble with a big payoff on the other side.