Darnell Washington knows what a championship roster looks like. The Steelers' rookie tight end won two national titles as a member of the Georgia Bulldogs the past two seasons. Washington doesn't expect the winning to end there, as he has already used the "S" word when discussing his new team.
Washington is especially optimistic when it comes to a Steelers offense that added several new players this past offseason. He feels that the offense -- and the Steelers in general -- are ready to compete for a championship.
"You surround the offense with players like George [Pickens] and Kenny [Pickett] and other players on the team, that's a Super Bowl, that's all I got to say," Washington said shortly after being drafted in the third round (93rd overall).
To some, Washington's optimism might seem a tad too high for an offense that averaged scoring just 18.1 points per game last season. Pittsburgh's offense did improve as the 2022 season progressed, however, capping off the season with a 28-point effort in its Week 18 win over Cleveland.
It should also be noted that the Steelers underwent a quarterback change a month into the season. Mike Tomlin turned over the keys of the offense to Pickett, a rookie who hadn't received many first-team reps up until that point. Pickett and the offense suffered a series of self-inflicted wounds before the unit pulled things together following the team's Week 9 bye. The Steelers went 7-2 from that point on with Pickett engineering four game-winning drive over that span.
Pickett's growth and the Steelers' strong finish last season are two reasons to be optimistic. A third reason is the additions Pittsburgh made to that side of the ball during the offseason. They've acquired a host of offensive linemen that includes first-round pick Broderick Jones, fellow rookie Spencer Anderson, former Eagles starter Isaac Seumalo and former Jets starter Nate Herbig.
The Steelers also added two notable skill players in Washington and former Pro Bowl wideout Allen Robinson, who was acquired via a trade with the Rams before the draft. Robinson and Washington join a skill position group that already includes Pickett, former Pro Bowlers Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson, second-year wideout George Pickens and third-year tight end Pat Freiermuth.
The timing of Washington's Super Bowl comment is fitting. Bryant McFadden, the former Steelers cornerback and current co-host of the "All Things Covered" podcast, was recently asked by co-host and current Pittsburgh cornerback Patrick Peterson to compare his Super Bowl-winning 2005 Steelers team to the current group.
"The structure around him was different," McFadden said. "Ben had more experience at the pass-catching position. The only young guy was Heath Miller, who was a rookie. Everybody else was really experienced."
Roethlisberger's receiving group back then was led by Hines Ward, who was in his eighth season in 2005. The Steelers' second-leading receiver that year was Antwaan Randle El, who was a fourth-yer pro. Pittsburgh's receiving corps also included fifth-year veterans Cedrick Wilson (who caught several big passes during the Steelers' playoff run) and Quincy Morgan. The additions of Wilson and Morgan that season helped overcome the loss of Plaxico Burress, who had signed with the Giants the previous offseason.
Along with Ward, Roethlisberger lean heavily that season on Miller, who caught six touchdown passes during the regular season and another in the playoffs. Ward took home MVP honors during that year's Super Bowl on the strength of his game-sealing touchdown catch on a pass that was thrown by Randle El, a former college quarterback.
Roethlisberger's group may have slightly more experience, but Pickett's group does include a 10-year veteran in Robinson, a fifth-year pro in Johnson and a three-year veteran in Freiermuth. Pickett is also flanked by Harris, who appears to be Jaylen Warren conjure up memories of the Steelers' 2005 backfield combo of Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, who played an integral role in that team becoming the first sixth seed to win it all.after becoming the first player in franchise history to begin his career with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Harris and teammate
The 2005 Steelers also had a dominant defense, led by future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu and Pro Bowl pass rusher Joey Porter. While they don't have any Hall of Famers yet, Pittsburgh's current defense features some of the league's best players in Peterson, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick. A championship is the main thing currently separating the current group from the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy 18 years ago.
Washington feels that the Steelers have the talent to win that elusive seventh Lombardi. Peterson, who like Washington is entering his first season with the Steelers, agrees, especially after seeing what Pittsburgh did during the draft. Peterson is especially excited about Pittsburgh's selection of Washington with the 93rd overall pick.
"To me," Peterson said, "I thought that was the steal of the draft. Knowing the history of the draft, those third-round (tight ends), they always come out special for some odd reason."