It was rather shocking to see former Georgia tight end Darnell Washington — a consensus first-round talent and one of the top tight ends in a loaded 2023 NFL Draft class at the position — continue to fall in the draft just over a week ago.
His play on the field and his measurables overall certainly weren’t a concern, so what was the issue? Turns out, it was a medical concern regarding his knee that caused the former Georgia standout to slip all the way to No. 93 overall. The Pittsburgh Steelers were more than happy to land the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end who is arguably the best blocker in the class and is a clear mismatch in the passing game.
One NFL scout, who remained anonymous with ESPN NFL Insider Jeremy Fowler, said Washington’s medical concerns are “laughable” and that the Bulldog-turned-Steeler will play at least eight years in the NFL and really had no business falling in the draft the way that he did.
“I had him as a late-first-round talent,” an NFC scout said to Fowler, according to ESPN.com. “He really moves well for his size.” As for Washington’s knee concern, the NFC scout largely brushed it aside, downplaying it significantly.
“It’s laughable — he’ll end up playing at least eight years,” the scout said to Fowler for ESPN.com.
According to previous reporting by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Washington fell in the draft due to those concerns with his knee. According to Rapoport, Washington had swelling in his knee at the Combine, which led to some teams taking him off of their draft board entirely.
The medical concerns were largely overblown, at least according to Washington. He told reporters shortly after the Steelers selected him that has never had any knee injuries.
“I feel great, man, something they probably had concern with is probably the knees because I am tall and a bigger guy but, they’re talking about some knee swelling, Washington said. “For me, I’ve never had injuries with my knees, knock on wood. I never tore anything in the knee. I had surgery on the right one, but it was just to clean some cartilage up. There was no tear, no break, no fracture, no nothing.
“For people to say that, I mean, all the concerns, at the end of the day, it’s just teams taking risks on us players and no other teams wanted to take a risk. For me, a great player, and that’s what Pittsburgh got.”
In Dr. Melanie Friedlander’s “Entrance Physical” piece for Steelers Depot regarding Washington, she gave a clean bill of health for the former Georgia standout and listed the injuries Washington has sustained dating back to high school. In August 2021, Washington underwent what was reported to be foot surgery. In March of 2022, Washington was listed with a lower-body injury and missed spring ball, leaving it relatively unclear what the injury was.
That said, Washington revealed to reporters after being selected by the Steelers that he had minor knee surgery done to clean up some cartilage, which was presumably done as a “knee scope” though it’s unclear when that procedure occurred.
Washington participated in all the drills and testing at the Scouting Combine, and then went through the paces at the Georgia Pro Day a week later. There were no signs of issues with his knee.
Pittsburgh brought Washington into town for a pre-draft visit, which was likely a medical re-check that ultimately cleared the way for the Steelers to feel comfortable enough to select him at No. 93 overall in the draft after a trade down from No. 80 overall with the Carolina Panthers.
If Washington plays eight years in the NFL, that’s a huge win for the Steelers overall. They were calculated in their decision-making and trusted the process leading up to Washington’s selection. They could be rewarded in a big way for trusting that process.