The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted one of the most unique players in the 2023 NFL Draft when they selected Georgia TE Darnell Washington, who fell to the end of the third round due to medical concerns. Washington was an elite blocker at Georgia, but he didn’t contribute a ton in the passing game with just 45 career catches for 774 yards and three touchdowns.
A big part of the lack of passing game production is that Washington was behind Mackey Award winner Brock Bowers at tight end, and Bowers was one of UGA’s main targets. In a press conference today, Steelers assistant general manager Andy Weidl talked about the uniqueness of Washington’s game and said he believes he’ll find success as a pass catcher and as a blocker.
“Well, Darnell, he is an unusual player. First with his size, his length, his athleticism and his speed. He is a guy defenses are going to — it’s going to be interesting how they account for him because it’s one of the things we talked about in the evaluation process, how are you going to treat him?” Weidl said via official transcript provided by the team. “Because he’s so flexible and versatile in what he can do. He can line up in the slot. He can line up on the line of scrimmage. He is a weapon in the run game. He is a guy you have to account for in the pass game because he has the ability and the speed to clear the second level. He is such a forgiving target and it’s a rare catch radius that he has and his ability to adjust to the football. He is just a unique player.”
Washington’s blocking ability is well-known, to the point where he’s been called “The Sixth Offensive Lineman.” He’s an absolute mauler in the run game and his presence is going to benefit the Steelers’ run blocking and lead to the team playing a lot more 12 personnel. In the passing game, Washington is going to be an interesting target. At 6’7, he has a size advantage over pretty much anyone who would guard him, and his speed makes him intriguing as a vertical threat next to Pat Freiermuth in Pittsburgh’s offense. He provides more upside as a blocker and as a receiver than Zach Gentry, and it would be surprising if Washington wasn’t Pittsburgh’s TE2 on the depth chart. I think his NFL pass-catching production will definitely surpass his collegiate production, even though Freiermuth is going to be Pittsburgh’s main weapon at the position. There are just so many things Washington does that make him so hard to guard, especially at his size.
Of all the Steelers’ draft picks, I’m most excited to watch Washington this season. There are just so many ways the team can use him, and I think he was a major steal at No. 93 overall. Obviously, the medical concerns caused him to fall, and while the concerns are legitimate that his knees won’t hold up over the course of his career just because of his body type and stature, that stuff tends to get overblown on draft night and lead to a more precipitous fall for a player.
But he’s one of the most physically gifted players who got drafted, and he can be a real weapon in all facets of the game for the Steelers. It’s going to be a challenge for opposing teams to figure how to guard him and who to put on him, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch him take on blockers during run plays. I mean, just watch how he attacked the sled drill during the NFL Combine. He’s going to be so tough to guard in a myriad of ways. I really can’t wait to see him hit the field in black and gold.