Darnell Washington enters the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. A 6’7-sized one. Viewed as a potential first-round pick throughout the pre-draft process, he suffered a huge draft weekend fall until the Pittsburgh Steelers stopped his slide at #93 late in the third round. While Washington is happy to be a Steeler, he admitted he was bothered by having to wait so long to hear his name called. He joined Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson on the All Things Covered podcast Thursday morning to discuss his draft experience.
“Honestly, it was hard,” Washington told the show. “All this hype, I felt like I crushed the Combine. Felt like I crushed the meetings. The only thing that I didn’t have that the other guys like [ND’s Michael Mayer] and them had was the thousand yards. The production, the numbers.”
Washington wasn’t the #1 target in his offense. Far from it. He played on a run-heavy team that had stars all over the map. And he wasn’t even the best receiving tight end on his own team. That honor goes to Brock Bowers, a potential generational tight end who caught 63 passes for 942 yards last season. By comparison, Washington’s production was less impressive, ending 2022 with 28 grabs for 454 yards and two touchdowns.
But Washington found other ways to create value. Regarded as one of the draft’s top blocking tight ends, he should be able to avoid the difficult learning curve most tight ends experience. Despite that NFL readiness, teams looked at other names ahead of him on draft day. Reportedly, it was primarily medical concerns about his knee that caused him to slide.
“I was just low-key irritated, mad, because I felt like I was more talented than some of the guys who went before me,” Washington said. “Not only that, the media, ESPN had me at the third-best, fourth-best, I was top five.”
Washington was viewed as a top-five tight end in a historically good class but medical concerns that sometimes even draftniks don’t know about, or don’t have many details on, can cause players to fall in the draft. It’s something that happens to a handful of players every season. Two of Pittsburgh’s draft picks went later than expected due to those medical concerns, Washington in the third and Purdue CB Cory Trice Jr., a potential Day Two talent who fell to the late seventh over a history of ankle and knee problems.
Though 2022 was a great year to need a tight end, Washington believes he should’ve gone far earlier than he did. And he knows exactly the names called before his.
‘You’ve got Dalton Kincaid, Michael Mayer, Tucker Craft, Brenton Strange to Jacksonville. Luke Musgrave, [Luke Schoonmaker] from Michigan…Sam LaPorta,” he said.
Aside from LaPorta, Washington easily rattled off the other names, even correctly naming the team that drafted Strange. That sounds like a man who is highly motivated to prove the NFL wrong. And that’ll be to the Steelers’ benefit.
Catch the whole interview below.