When fans watch the NFL Draft, it can be really cool to see the reactions of the players who are now officially members of the National Football League. However, what is rarely shown are the players who have to wait to hear their name called.
There have been some awkward green room moments in draft history, most notably would be Aaron Rodgers’ fall, as well as Brady Quinn awkwardly waiting in the Radio City Music Hall green room waiting his turn to be selected. This year those awkward moments belonged to players like Will Levis and Joey Porter Jr., who both attended the draft thinking they’d be selected in Round 1, only to not hear their names called until Day 2.
What no one sees are the players who don’t attend the draft, but still have to wait. In fact, there are situations where players feel as if they can’t leave due to cameras being set up to see their reactions upon being drafted.
That’s exactly what happened to Steelers 3rd Round pick Darnell Washington. Washington was expected to go either late Round 1, or early Round 2. Instead, he fell to pick No. 93 in Round 3. His recollection of the evening was less than ideal.
“I couldn’t go anywhere because I was mic’d up for TV,” Washington told the Steelers official website. “I wanted to go play basketball and get my mind off the draft. I couldn’t get away. Just sitting there, hearing other players’ names get called and not mine, it is hard.
“It’s a lot more waiting than I planned on. I thought I should have gone sooner. It all worked out. I have a plan now and I am just going to follow it.”
When Washington saw the 412 area code on his phone, he knew a couple things. He was now a member of the Steelers, and he’d be reunited with some of his college teammates from the University of Georgia.
“When I got the call from Pittsburgh, it excited me,” said Washington. “Two of my former Bulldogs are there with George Pickens and Broderick Jones getting drafted too. Those two guys are the funniest people. To have that again is always a plus. It’s always a plus to see familiar faces in the locker room.
“And for it to be Coach Tomlin on the phone, it still didn’t hit me yet. It’s crazy. I am not an emotional dude, so I didn’t cry or anything like that. But it was a dream come true. I know everybody says that, but that is the simplest way to put it. A dream come true.
“All the hard work we all did in college, the 5 a.m. workouts, the 6 a.m. workouts. It’s starting to pay off. The journey has just begun. Now it’s time to work.”
While being with former teammates always eases the transition to a new environment, Washington also found it nice to know he was going to Pittsburgh. When Washington visited the Steelers on an official 30 visit, he remembered just how awesome the experience was for him.
“I was thinking of how good the people are here,” Washington remembered. “I had good conversations with the strength and conditioning people. The tight ends coach, Alfredo (Roberts), he is a great tight end coach and there is a good tight end group here. I bumped into Pat (Freiermuth) when I was there for my visit. We hit it off right away. We also hit it off when I met him at Penn State when I was coming out of high school. So, it all unfolds the way it should. It’s a small world. I never knew I would have a chance to play with Pat and now we can build off each other and make each other better.”
With the awkward, and sometimes painful, NFL Draft wait now in the rear view mirror, Washington realizes what lies ahead. He knows what kind of weapon he can be in an NFL style offense.
“When I put it all together, I can be a mismatch,” said Washington. “I can be anywhere on the field, whether that’s running routes or if that’s blocking. I need to put it all together. Once I do that, I will be a complete tight end. I am not complete yet. It takes time. Being with Coach Alfredo and working on our game will make it happen.
“I enjoy blocking. I enjoy every aspect of the game. Blocking, running routes, I have done it all. Back in my days I used to play left tackle and I blocked a whole season. I have played receiver. I have played running back. I have done it all on the field. I enjoy every aspect of the game.
“It means the world to get the opportunity to be at this level now. I am just trying to prove everybody that passed on me wrong and that is what I plan on doing.”
The entire NFL passed on Washington at least once, if not twice, before the Steelers pulled the trigger on the pick. Nonetheless, all parties involved seem more than pleased with the end result. Now it’s time to see what Washington can do on the field in 2023, and beyond.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.