Every summer, it seems, there is at least one Steelers rookie who is either a lower-round pick or an undrafted free-agent that fans are excited about and want to see succeed.
Usually, this player fighting the odds is at a sexy position like running back, wide receiver or linebacker. An undersized offensive lineman who not only was a seventh round pick, but the fourth seventh round pick of that year's draft...even though his underdog status screams of someone you should probably root for, he's more than likely going to be placed in the afterthought bin.
Such was the case for Kelvin Beachum, the offensive lineman who not only was selected by the Steelers with their fourth seventh round pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, he was in the class that included guard David DeCastro (Round 1) and fellow tackle Mike Adams (Round 2).
Talk about an afterthought.
As the third lineman of that class, just making the roster would have been an achievement. But not only did the SMU product, who is listed at 6'2" and 303 pounds, make the final cut in training camp, he started five games in his rookie year due to injury.
Surely, though, Adams, the Ohio State product with first round talent who convinced the likes of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to take a chance on him in-spite of his off-the-field issues that included flunking a drug test at the Combine, would reach his potential in 2013 and be a fixture at one of the starting tackle spots for many years to come. After all, at 6'7" and 323 pounds, he had the physical attributes that would make most scouts drool.
Unfortunately for Adams, after recovering from an early-summer stabbing in the South Side that left him hospitalized, he couldn't take advantage of his starting nod at left tackle and was so abysmal, he lost his job after the first month of the 2013 campaign, as the Steelers started 0-4.
In stepped Beachum, the guy who was originally considered a utility lineman capable of playing many positions, to take Adams' spot protecting the blindside of the very valuable commodity better known as franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And according to Colbert in a press conference shortly after the season, Beachum, who started 12 games at left tackle in only his second year, played a "huge" role down the stretch in stabilizing an offensive line that lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in Week 1 and saw Roethlisberger get sacked 32 times over the first half of the year. Sure, offensive coordinator Todd Haley also increased the use of a no-huddle attack, which helped decrease No. 7's sack total to just 11 over the final two months, but you have to credit Beachum for coming in and seizing the starting job of maybe the second most important position on offense.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. Not only did Beachum start 12 games in 2013, he started all 16 in 2014. Speaking of the 2014 season, even though the offense didn't utilize the no-huddle attack nearly as much as many thought, Roethlisberger enjoyed the lowest sack percentage of his career up to that point (5.1).
Unfortunately for Beachum, the 2015 season would see him get caught up in the wave of serious injuries along the offensive side of the football, and he was lost for the year with a torn ACL suffered in a home game against the Cardinals in Week 6.
With Alejandro Villanueva stepping in at left tackle and improving as the season went along (Roethlisberger's sack percentage was an even better 4.1), the writing was on the wall for Beachum, who ultimately signed with the Jaguars on Tuesday at about the exact same time Pittsburgh inked veteran tackle Ryan Harris to a deal.
Fact is, even without the injury, as a player who, despite his relatively diminutive size, was considered one of the better young left tackles in the NFL, Beachum probably would have received a rather handsome offer from another team if he was allowed to reach free-agency.
It would have been nice to see Beachum play the majority of his career in Pittsburgh and become a modern-day John Jackson (10th round, 1988), but the realities of today are four-year rookie deals for non-first round picks, a salary cap and teams constantly being on the lookout for a cheaper alternative.
Here's hoping Kelvin Beachum fully recovers from his knee injury and goes on to have a Pro Bowl career. He might not be a Pittsburgh Steeler anymore, but he's still a great NFL story.