The wait finally ends for Georgia tight end Darnell Washington

Cornerback Kelee Ringo, other Bulldogs remain on standby
Georgia Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington (0) leaps against Florida Gators safety Trey Dean III (0) after a reception during the first quarter in a NCAA football game at TIAA Bank Field, Saturday, October 29, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington (0) leaps against Florida Gators safety Trey Dean III (0) after a reception during the first quarter in a NCAA football game at TIAA Bank Field, Saturday, October 29, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — It was a tough night of waiting for a couple of Georgia Bulldogs on Friday.

A day after seeing three of their teammates snapped up in the first round of the NFL draft, the thought was that Georgia’s Darnell Washington and Kelee Ringo wouldn’t have to wait long to hear their names called when the second round commenced the next night.

Wrong.

Not only did they not go quickly Friday, neither player went in the second round at all. It was, in fact, late into the third round before Washington finally heard his name called, going to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 93rd pick overall. That was at the very end of the round and just before compensatory and special compensation picks.

Ringo, meanwhile, never did get a call. He almost certainly will Saturday, as the draft continues with rounds four through seven.

It was a mighty fall for a couple of players who received more than their share of pre-draft buzz. Ringo, a third-year sophomore, was showing up in mock drafts as a likely first-rounder well before the 2022 season started.

Meanwhile, there simply isn’t any other tight end like Washington in the draft. Despite measuring in at 6-foot-6 and five-eighths and 264 pounds and showing exceptional pass-catching skills and blocking as a junior this past season, Washington saw seven tight ends selected before him. One of those other tight ends – Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer – went to Washington’s hometown Las Vegas Raiders with the 35th pick, the fourth of the second round.

Injury concerns for Washington likely were the culprit. He dealt with foot injuries his first two seasons, then played through the College Football Playoff with an ankle issue. He left the national championship victory on a pair of crutches.

“I feel great,” Washington said in a conference call with reporters Friday. “Some teams had concerns with my knees because I’m a taller and bigger guy. They talked about some knee-swelling. For me, I had no injury with my knees ever, knock on wood. I never tore anything in the knees. I had knee surgery on the right knee, but that was just cartilage that flaked up, they went in and cleaned it.”

Used primarily as a blocker his first two seasons, Washington’s receiving skills picked up at the end of the 2021 season and continued to be refined last year. Sharing time with star Brock Bowers, Washington ranked fifth on the team in catches this past season, with 28 for 454 yards, and scored two touchdowns. Over three seasons, he played in 36 games, catching 45 passes for 774 yards and three TDs.

In Pittsburgh, Washington will be reunited with offensive tackle Broderick Jones, who the Steelers selected with the 14th pick Thursday, and wide receiver George Pickens, who they drafted off Georgia’s 2021 team.

The Bulldogs had a lot of players passed over in the second and third rounds Friday. A year after recording an NFL-record 15 picks overall, the Bulldogs currently sit on only four with four rounds to go. Besides Jones, defensive tackle Jalen Carter (ninth to Eagles) and outside linebacker Nolan Smith (30th to Eagles) also became first-round selections Friday when the draft opened in Kansas City, Missouri.

In addition to Ringo, other Bulldogs expected to be drafted Saturday include running back Kenny McIntosh, offensive tackle Warren McClendon, defensive back Christopher Smith and quarterback Stetson Bennett.

Interestingly, when Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker was selected by the Tennessee Titans early in the third round, he become the fifth quarterback picked in the 2023 draft. All of them – Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Hooker – lost their last head-to-head battles with Bennett.

Overall, the back-to-back national champions are falling behind their normal draft pace under coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs averaged 9.5 selections per draft over the past five years.

About the Author