Very early in the Steelers preseason opener against New York Saturday night, starting guard Ramon Foster was lying face down on the turf of MetLife Stadium with an unspecified injury.
However, one of the announcers doing the TV broadcast for KDKA--either Bob Pompeani or Edmund Nelson--initially indicated that it was Maurkice Pouncey who was being attended to. After it was revealed that it was actually Foster (who suffered a minor eye injury) and not the first round center, there was probably a collective sigh of relief in Steeler Nation.
After all, Pouncey missed just about all of last season with a knee injury, and being the only Pro Bowl player on Pittsburgh's young and talented offensive line, he is vital. But really isn't Foster almost as valuable? How much would it hurt the Steelers line if Foster were to miss a significant amount of time?
Some might say it wouldn't be that tough a blow, considering Foster was "only" an UDFA in 2009, but he's also been the most durable offensive lineman the team has had in recent years, starting 45 games since 2011. It's not easy to find that kind of durability in the current NFL--and that's especially the case when it comes to the Steelers' offensive line.
One spot next to Foster is Kelvin Beachum, a seventh round pick in 2012, who is now the starting left tackle as the 2014 season approaches. Beachum is undersized for his role (6-3, 303 lbs) and might someday have to look over his shoulder for his replacement. But as for the upcoming season, if Beachum can't get the job done, the Steelers are going to be in a bit of trouble.
On the other side of the ball, if nose tackle Steve McLendon, like Foster an UDFA in 2009, doesn't become the solid player people are hoping he can turn into as he tries to replace the legendary Casey Hampton, it's probably safe to assume Rashad Jennings' 73 yard jaunt the other night won't be the last big play the defense gives up this year.
What do you think would happen to the Steelers offense if receiver Antonio Brown, a sixth round pick in 2010, gets injured? Brown was almost an afterthought in his rookie year, who many probably viewed in the same light that they now view Justin Brown, Pittsburgh's sixth round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft . ("If this No. 84 doesn't make the team, oh well.") But Brown is now a bona fide superstar and an invaluable member of the Black and Gold. It's a good thing, too, considering Pittsburgh hasn't drafted a receiver higher than the third round since 2008, and considering the two players the Steelers used third round picks on--Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders--are playing for other organizations.
Does Brown fit the mold of a true No. 1 wide-out? No, he doesn't. But the fact that he's accomplished so much so soon and is now in the upper echelon at his position is a testament to both him for the hard work and dedication to his craft and to the coaching staff for recognizing his talents and helping to develop them.
That's the thing about draft picks; the busts like Alonzo Jackson, Limas Sweed and (maybe soon) Mike Adams get mentioned as black marks for the front office and the coaching staff. But what about the lower round picks and undrafted free agents who become productive players and even superstars?
As the Steelers get ready for what they hope to be a return to relevance in 2014, in addition several first and second rounders, they'll also be counting on many players who were fourth round picks or lower--including every single one of their cornerbacks--to get the job done in-order for a winning season and maybe a playoff berth to take place.
When it comes to the corners, it's not hard to imagine them being able to get the best out of their abilities. Obviously, Ike Taylor, a fourth round pick in 2003, worked through his limitations and eventually made himself into a very respectable player at his position for a number of years.
Under the tutelage of secondary coach Carnell Lake, William Gay, a fifth round selection in 2007, overcame his struggles and the wrath of the fans to become a fairly serviceable defensive back for a team that sorely needed it at that time (and will surely need it again this season).
If Cortez Allen finally reaches the next level that everyone has been waiting for since he was drafted in 2011, well, he might be another fourth round pick who will someday earn the same kind of respect from the hometown fans that Ike Taylor has achieved (his inability to catch a football, be damned).
Missing on high draft picks can potentially cripple a team, as the Steelers have found out in recent years. However, if you can make up for it by developing talent from the mid-rounds on down, it's a great way to compensate--and also a nice way to discover a superstar or two.