The tight end position felt much more like a big, fat “want” heading into the 2023 NFL Draft rather than a genuine need. After all, the Steelers retain the entirety of their tight end room from last season, with which they seemed content. But the value of Georgia’s Darnell Washington late in the third round was just too good to pass up. Head coach Mike Tomlin spoke on why after the draft.
“I think the awesome thing about him besides his measurables is his mindset”, he said of his newest skill position player, via the team’s website. “Here’s a guy that I think maybe has ‘sixth offensive lineman’ on his license plate. He embraces the things that come with being who he is, and knowledge of self and embracing that I think is one of the things that made him attractive, besides the unique physical traits and the things that he’s been able to accomplish. The mindset, the willingness, too, is equally as exciting”.
Listed at 6’7”, 270 pounds, Washington is a big man and a rare breed, combining physicality with athleticism. The full extent of his abilities as a receiver, most believe, are still yet to be explored coming out of the Bulldogs’ offense, but nobody questions his blocking.
I don’t know whether Washington actually has a license plate that says sixth lineman, but that’s how he refers to himself on his social media profile. And frankly it would certainly beat the tackle-eligible looks the Steelers had been trotting out lately.
The Steelers ended up getting him late in the third round, 93rd overall, after trading back from 80 with the Carolina Panthers. They felt good about the prospects of him still being there, but why, if he’s so good?
The report from draft night is that teams were concerned about his medicals, specifically the risk of developing knee issues in the future. He hasn’t had any ligament tears, but he had a cleanup procedure on his knee to address a cartilage issue.
Barring medical concerns, Washington would have been regarded as a great value pick even at 80, and a good selection at their native second-round selection at 49. One wonders if the fact the Steelers traded away from him suggests even they have some concerns about his long-term health risk.
But they should be more familiar with him than most teams, having brought him in for a pre-draft visit, during which they surely went over his medicals extensively. Even with the value, I don’t think they would have drafted him at all if they were that concerned, not in a draft class with limited picks. If they did draft him at 80, they would have had just two seventh-round picks remaining for the rest of the draft, which would have cost them Nick Herbig.