Rookie Roster Impact: TE Darnell Washington

The NFL Draft is the last major roster-building milestone of the offseason and will dictate much about who we see in a uniform come September. For every rookie who makes the 53-man roster, that means one veteran does not. It’s circle of life as far as professional sports goes—out with the old, in with the new.

This year, we’re going to take a look at each draft pick the Pittsburgh Steelers made and examine how they are likely to impact the 53-man roster. How likely are they to make the team, how will they dictate position numbers, whose roster spot are they likely to take? You get the idea.

The Steelers drafted seven players in 2023, including four in the first three rounds, as well as two picks in the seventh. Each of them has a chance to make the roster, certainly, but I think most would be surprised if any fewer than six were on the team.

Draft Pick Name: Darnell Washington

Draft Slot: Third Round (93rd overall)

Position: Tight End

Roster Outlook And Impact:

One wonders just how highly rated the Steelers really had Darnell Washington, the big tight end out of Georgia. General manager Omar Khan said that Washington was the highest-rated player on their board even before they traded back in the third round, having previously held the 80th overall pick, moving down to 93rd. Their previous selection was at 49.

Almost everybody agrees that Washington was great value at 93, evidently teams only being concerned about potential future medical issues with his knees. But as a prospect, most expected him to be off the board earlier, perhaps much earlier.

His roster status is not in question. He will likely become the team’s primary blocking tight end quickly, if not immediately, displacing Zach Gentry in that role. The only question is whether Gentry will be displaced entirely, as in off the roster, or if they will keep four tight ends—or if they will move Connor Heyward to more of a fullback position on a full-time basis.

While the Steelers did not re-sign fullback Derek Watt, they did add a fullback as a college free agent in Monte Pottebaum, who figures to have a non-zero chance of making the team. If he does, that would really complicate Gentry’s employment. Otherwise, they should relatively easily accommodate the new top four, including Pat Freiermuth at the top.

The addition of Washington might have its biggest impact on personnel, however. Depending on how quickly he acclimates to the NFL, the Steelers may considerably increase their usage of 12 personnel—that is, two tight ends—a trend that already began in the back half of last season.

The former Bulldog still has untapped potential as a receiving option but already comes in ready to block, so having him and Freiermuth on the field together can make the offense much less predictable in terms of whether they are running or throwing. They could also add Gentry and Heyward into that mix.

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