If you followed our Pittsburgh Steelers draft recap series, looking back on the team’s 10 most recent drafts dating back to 2005, you may have picked up on a comment that I made in the 2009 draft, during which the team drafted guard Kraig Urbik in the third round, but signed Ramon Foster as an undrafted free agent.
In 2009, Foster dressed for 14 games and played in several of them, starting four games, while Urbik spent the year on the bench as an inactive. A year later, Foster started eight of the 12 games in which he was healthy, while Urbik failed to make the roster.
This offseason, Foster is technically set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time of his career—he agreed to a three-year contract with the Steelers the day before free agency opened in 2013—while Urbik was just released by the Bills after he was replaced in the starting lineup.
Taking a comparative look at the history of their careers, Foster was able to provide an immediate impact in his career as a game-day reserve and spot starter. Since his rookie season, the only games for which he has not dressed were the ones for which he was injured.
He has dressed for 102 games over a seven-year career and made 87 starts, having been an uncontested starter for the past three seasons and a full-time starter essentially since 2011 due to injury. He has started an average of 15 games per season over the course of the past five seasons.
As for Urbik, he has not done poorly for himself by any means, having primarily been a starter for the past five seasons up until this year. From 2011 to 2013, he started in every game that he played in, missing six games in that span.
Over the past two seasons, however, he has played in 32 games, but only started 13, including just four games last season, after the Bills acquired Richie Incognito, who has already re-signed, and replaced by rookie John Miller, a third-round draft pick.
Urbik already took a pay cut to stay on the roster last offseason after it became apparent that he would lose his starting job to Miller and Incognito, and he strengthened his versatility by working snaps at center as well, which helped him keep his position on the roster for at least one more year.
My comment at the time was that the Steelers’ 2009 draft class would be viewed much differently had Foster been the third-round draft pick and Urbik the undrafted free agent, perhaps much in the same way that the 2012 draft class would be viewed if Kelvin Beachum were the second-round pick and Mike Adams to seventh-rounder.
Of course, it’s never a good thing when a high draft pick fails to pan out the way that he was expected, but the draft is a fickle thing very much dependent upon human failings, and things don’t always work out. But those early misses can be offset by late hits, such as Foster and Beachum, to make up for the Urbiks and Adamses.