Entrance Physical: TE Darnell Washington

Welcome to a new series, the “entrance physicals.” We will evaluate every new player signed by the Steelers with a focus on current health and past injuries. As always, these reports are based on publicly available information, including player interviews, injury reports and reliable news sources. I have no access to the players medical records and have not examined them or discussed this with them unless otherwise noted.

The athletic tight end, known at Georgia as a physical blocker, was projected to be drafted as early as the first or second round by some experts. Based on reporting from NFL insiders Albert Breer and Ian Rapoport, many teams took Washington off their draft board or were reluctant to use a high draft pick on him based on medical concerns with regard to his knee.  And the Steelers were the lucky recipients of that slide, taking a player who may be the top tight end in the draft with the 93rd overall pick. When asked about taking a risk by the 102.5 WDVE morning crew, Steelers General Manager Omar Khan explained that he had to trust the pre-draft work he and his team had done, including review of medical reports.

Washington participated in the NFL Scouting Combine, which means he would have undergone a complete medical evaluation in Indianapolis. What was new in 2023, however, is that each player only underwent one full orthopedic exam and one imaging study. The league made this change to streamline the process and prevent the hours of waiting for multiple X-rays and MRIs, which caused players to miss both sleep and scheduled meetings with teams in previous years. In the past, every player would be evaluated by six physicians, who could order any tests they felt appropriate. With this new policy, it is possible that Washington was noted to have some minor swelling in his knee but never underwent an MRI to further evaluate it. It’s also possible that the knee swelling was noticed by coaches or scouts during drills after the medical evaluation had occurred. In either scenario, each NFL team would then need to decide how to respond to a possible injury and whether to take a chance on a top-ranked player. In the Pittsburgh draft war room, the decision was clear, and the Steelers may have gotten the steal of the draft.


Age 21 (8/17/2001)  Height 6′ 7″  Weight 264 lbs  BMI 29.7


2019 (high school)

Hand fracture sustained in the Week 7 Desert Pines Jaguars game against the Legacy Longhorns. In a 2023 interview, Washington stated that the trainers taped him up and he played through the rest of the season. He doesn’t appear to be wearing any splint under his gloves in the playoff game five weeks later:


Undisclosed injury. Prior to the Week 6 game versus Tennessee (the third game in a shortened season), Washington was evaluated during team warmups. Although he did not start as he had the first two games, he did play 13 snaps. He returned as a starter the following week. He played all nine games of the regular season and in the bowl game.


Foot surgery in August to repair a fracture sustained during the preseason delayed the start of Washington’s sophomore season.  Based on the short time frame from the injury to surgery and the length of recovery, it seems unlikely that this was a Lisfranc injury.  Assuming that it was just a fracture, it was most likely a metatarsal, which has a straightforward recovery and low risk for long-term complications.

He missed the first four games and was eased back into action, playing only 19 snaps in his first game back. He did not miss any additional playing time, taking part in eight regular season games and three playoff games, including Georgia’s victory in the national championship game.

Spring 2022

Lower body injury (as described by Head Coach Kirby Smart) sustained while training caused him to miss spring practice. As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington was able to continue training but used a scooter to get around campus. “It feels great,” Washington told the AJC at the time. “I’m not really sure the time frame. I take it day-by-day and do my rehab.”  This may have been when he had knee surgery (see below).

Left ankle injury sustained in the semifinal college playoff Peach Bowl against Ohio State, which happened early in the second quarter while blocking on a play that QB Stetson Bennett was intercepted. He limped off the field with assistance but was able to bear some weight.  He was ruled out for the remainder of the game and was wearing a boot and using crutches when seen on the sideline. Smart gave an update prior to the national championship game and described the injury as a strained ankle with a soft tissue bruise. He clarified that it was not a high ankle sprain and would not require surgery.  (Note: a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon and a sprain is an injury to ligaments.) Washington no longer required crutches or a boot when he arrived in Los Angeles for the game and played 43 snaps in the win over TCU. Here is the play where he was injured:

Year Unknown

Right knee surgery, which was most likely done arthroscopically (“knee scope”). No record of when this occurred. Speaking to the media after his draft selection, Washington said, “I had no injuries with my knees, never. Knock on wood. I never tore anything in the knees, anything like that.  I only had a knee surgery on the right knee, but that was just cartilage flared up.” For an uncomplicated knee arthroscopy with cartilage debridement (“cleanup”) and no significant meniscus injury, the recovery would have been 4 weeks or less.

As seen in video from the 2023 NFL Combine, Washington showed no sign of injury and there was no evidence of knee swelling during drills:


Presumably clean bill of health. Expect team physicians and trainers to monitor him for any right knee swelling.

Should be ready to participate in rookie minicamp and OTAs.

Level of Fitness: Excellent

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