Darnell Washington, Steelers Who Boosted Stock With Strong Preseason Showing

Joe TanseyAugust 30, 2023

Darnell Washington, Steelers Who Boosted Stock With Strong Preseason Showing

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    TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 11: Darnell Washington #80 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs downfield during an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on August 11, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
    Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered their young offensive core around Kenny Pickett in the preseason.

    Darnell Washington's development at tight end made long-time Steelers player Zach Gentry expendable on cut day.

    Washington made the 53-man roster on Tuesday alongside Pat Freiermuth and Connor Heyward at tight end.

    Pittsburgh's collection of six wide receivers was never in doubt, but there is more buzz surrounding that unit coming out of preseason because of how well Calvin Austin III performed after he lost his rookie season to injury.

    The Steelers had some tougher decisions to make on the defensive depth chart, and for now, they have a deep defensive back room full of players that forced their way on to the right side of the roster bubble.

Darnell Washington

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    Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington (80) runs drills before an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
    AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

    Washington is an offensive weapon the Steelers have not had in quite some time.

    The 6'7", 265-pound tight end is a force across the middle, and he should turn in a vital red-zone target for Pickett throughout the regular season.

    Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff had an easy decision to make to partner Washington with Freiermuth at tight end, but it came at the expense of Gentry.

    Gentry was known more his blocking than pass catching and the Steelers could not justify keeping him and Connor Heyward in similar blocking roles.

    Washington displayed flashes of his talent during the team's three preseason games and training camp practices. He should make an immediate impact on the offense in third-down and red-zone situations.

    The second-round pick will not take over all of Freiermuth's production, but he has the potential to at least cut into it over 17 games.

Calvin Austin III

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    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 24: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III (19) carries the ball during the Preweek 3 NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers on August 24, 2023 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Austin, a 2022 fourth-round pick, is making up for lost time after missing last season with an injury.

    The Memphis product showcased his blazing speed throughout preseason on routes in the passing game and on special teams.

    The 24-year-old solidified himself as the fourth option at wide receiver for Pickett to work with.

    The Steelers feel more than comfortable with the trio of George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Allen Robinson, but they needed more depth, and they got that with Austin.

    Austin may even beat out Gunner Olszewski and Miles Boykin for time as a return man on special teams.

    He showed off his returning abilities with a 21-yard punt return against the Atlanta Falcons in the final preseason contest.

    Austin has the potential to be a game-changing option either as a deep threat or return man and that has to excite the Steelers coaching staff going into the regular season.

Elijah Riley

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    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - AUGUST 19:  Elijah Riley #37 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after intercepting a pass during the second quarter of a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Elijah Riley forced his way on to the 53-man roster with a strong preseason.

    The defensive back impressed with his coverage ability, versatility between cornerback and safety and on special teams.

    The Steelers opted to keep 10 defensive backs, a group led by Joey Porter Jr., Patrick Peterson and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

    The AFC North side needs depth at corner behind Porter and Peterson, and that is where Riley could step in throughout the regular season.

    Riley can compete for snaps in the slot, and even on the outside when the starters are off the field.

    Riley needs to continue to impress because the Steelers may