Being the newest fifth round pick (a compensatory one, at that) of a team that recently used two first and two second round choices to try and upgrade the very position you play (offensive line) has to be a bit discouraging.
However, if discouraged is what Wesley Johnson, the 6'5", 297 pound offensive tackle the Steelers selected out of Vanderbilt in the 2014 NFL Draft, is feeling at the moment, he only needs to look at two members of his new team's offensive line to realize starting in the NFL might not be as abstract as it seems.
Sure, three of those recent top selections are starters at their respective positions, from center to right tackle. But when it comes to left guard and left tackle, two positions very near and dear to Ben Roethlisberger's blindside, a 2009 UDFA and a 2012 seventh round pick head into the 2014 season entrusted with having No. 7's back in the most literal sense.
Steelers left guard Ramon Foster came to Pittsburgh in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee. The starting offensive line that season included Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Trai Essex, and Willie Colon, with Colon being the top performer of a group that was less than stellar.
Therefore, when Foster started four games in his rookie year and eight more the next, maybe that wasn't quite the Herculean feat to pull off. However, the fact that Foster has managed to survive the influx of talent, hold onto his job, and become one of the most durable and consistent members of the offensive line (he's started 45 games over the past three seasons), is proof that, at the end of the day, your draft status is only just a number (and not even that in the case of an UDFA) if you prove you belong in the NFL.
And that brings me to Kelvin Beachum, the left tackle the Steelers drafted in the seventh round out of SMU two years ago. Much like Johnson, Beachum came to Pittsburgh with versatility as a strength and was projected to move from his college position of tackle to that of guard, his size of 6'2", 303 pounds being among the top reasons.
But late in the season, in a game against the Browns, Beachum filled in for an injured Mike Adams, that year's second round pick, at right tackle and was impressive enough to get the nod the following week. Beachum started the final five games of the 2012 season for the injured Adams, and entered 2013 as Pittsburgh's top utility offensive lineman.
It wasn't long before Beachum's versatility would have to be utilized at center, thanks to a season-ending injury to Maurkice Pouncey on the first offensive drive of the season against the Titans in Week 1.
After the signing of veteran center Fernando Velasco, Beachum was back on the bench by Week 2. But because of the on-going struggles of Adams at left tackle in September, Beachum took over and wound up starting 12 games.
And according to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, Beachum's play at LT was a "huge" reason for the offensive line's decline in sacks allowed over the second half of the year, after yielding them at an alarming rate during the first two months.
The fact that Johnson is versatile and can play several positions along the offensive line certainly does increase his value for a Pittsburgh team that never seems to go more than a game or two without needing that "next man up" at various positions, but especially the hogs up front.
But like in the cases of Foster and Beachum, if Johnson does find himself starting a game or two along the offensive line, he, too, may realize that a player's draft status is only just a number if he proves he can play at a high level in the NFL.