‘Ain’t No Roof On It:’ TE Darnell Washington Heaps Praise On WR George Pickens

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington was a hot topic before the 2023 NFL draft and has continued to be one after being selected 93rd overall. Whether it’s his head coach, Mike Tomlin, waxing poetically about Washington being a throwback or making the media rounds himself, the 6’7, 270-pound mountain of a tight end is all over the place as the team shifts gears to look towards training camp.

So it was no surprise that Washington made an appearance on Thursday’s episode of All Things Covered, the CBS Sports podcast hosted by former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden and current Steelers corner Patrick Peterson. While Washington discussed how he arrived at the number 80 for his jersey and not his college number zero, Washington also dished on former University of Georgia Bulldog and current Steelers teammate, wide receiver George Pickens.

“His potential, ain’t no roof on it,” Washington said. “Like with him, I saw him in Georgia do crazy stuff against the defense that we just had… It’s crazy, just like his ball skills [are] just crazy. I can’t even explain it. You know how DBs play through their hands or things like that? With him, I saw him time, he’ll fake act like the ball’s fading on him, and he’ll just cut in like, what the hell? Like at the last moment. It just like his ball skills just make him unique, you know? When people say, ‘Oh, I have crazy ball skills.’ Like he legit has it.”

Washington had plenty of time to see Pickens play at the college level. They were teammates from 2020-2021, and during that time, Pickens showed that he could be an explosive receiver. While he only played in 24 career games over three years, he proved that he could make every catch count. As a freshman, before Washington arrived on campus, Pickens averaged 14.8 yards per reception before dropping slightly to 14.3 yards per catch as a sophomore. Then as a junior, he tore an ACL during the spring of 2021. He worked his way back and played in four games. He only caught the ball five times, but he averaged an incredible 21.4 yards per reception across those five catches. Perhaps no catch was bigger than a 52-yard reception against the University of Alabama in the national championship game.

While Pickens proved he was healthy after recovering from the ACL injury, his body of work might have been considered a small sample size to some. After all, he only played in 24 games. That can deter a number of teams from spending at least a high draft pick on any player.

However, that wasn’t enough to deter the Steelers, who drafted him 52nd overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Through the years, the Steelers have proven that they have an eye for evaluating college wide receivers. Players like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace all proved to be capable if not excellent wide receivers at the NFL level. While it is impossible to hit on every single receiver drafted, Pittsburgh has identified the right receiver more often than not. The team has appeared to do the same with Pickens, who appeared in all 17 games as a rookie with 12 starts. He pulled in 52 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.4 yards per reception.

If Washington is to be believed, and he should be since he spent two years sharing a locker room and practice field with Pickens, Pickens still hasn’t shown us what he’s capable of. If Pickens wants to deliver on that high praise from his teammate, he still needs to improve as a route runner in order to take his game to the next level. According to QB Kenny Pickett, he has already begun work on that facet of his skill set. Sharing a wide receiver room with the likes of Diontae Johnson and Allen Robinson II should also help his development as he gets to watch two players who are highly skilled route runners every day.

Then we’ll get to see just how high the sky is in Washington’s eyes.

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