An NFL draft Day 2 for the ages

An NFL draft Day 2 for the ages

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider likes to put on reggae music inside the team’s draft room. It helps ease the tension that comes with the high-stakes event and can prevent the buzzkill of celebrating a pick, only to hear a draft analyst rip it on national television. So in between selections, the Seahawks will turn down the TV and turn up the Bob Marley.

Don’t worry … about a thing … ’cause every little thing … is gonna be all right.

Those words proved especially true for Schneider and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after Day 2 in 2012.

Still, on that Friday afternoon a decade ago, reassurance might have been needed.

The Seahawks’ top pick that year, West Virginia outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, had been jailed for burglary as a teenager and admitted to selling drugs. That helped contribute to a much lower grade from most analysts than where Seattle took him at No. 15 overall. The second-round pick, Bobby Wagner, was a small-school linebacker out of Utah State with a smallish frame, not to mention a medical issue that was discovered during a pre-draft visit. The third-rounder, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, was a shade under 5-foot-11. Not exactly the ideal height for the game’s most important position.

The pundits had a field day.

But what no one knew then was that Seattle struck gold for the third straight year, adding two likely Hall of Famers – who are currently the top two players in the 2012 NFL draft in terms of approximate value, according to Pro Football Reference – and other key pieces to a roster that would win the Super Bowl a season later.

As difficult as it might have been for Seahawks fans to see the team trade Wilson and release Wagner on the same day last month, there was something fitting about the symmetry given that they had drafted the two franchise icons just hours apart a decade earlier.

Here’s a look back at how the Seahawks waded through a draft that started with the selections of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to get two franchise icons:

‘I thought that was the last team that was going to pick me’

Not since 1996 has an NFL team drafted two Hall of Fame players in the same class. The Baltimore Ravens did it that year with linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it has happened only seven other times since the common draft era began in 1967. Of those eight instances, the 1968 Raiders – who picked quarterback Ken Stabler in the second round and offensive tackle Art Shell in the third – are the only team that didn’t draft at least one of its same-year Hall of Famers in the first round.

If Wilson and Wagner – with their combined 17 Pro Bowls – continue on their path to Canton, Ohio, the Seahawks will join that company.

And to think of all the ways it could have easily never happened.

Wagner would never have guessed he’d be a Seahawk after an eventful pre-draft visit to team headquarters.

Because of a bout with pneumonia, he wasn’t able to attend the scouting combine. It wasn’t until his trip to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center that the Seahawks’ medical staff discovered a kidney condition that, as Wagner would later explain, makes it difficult to take anti-inflammatories. The team had to convince him to stay overnight so it could conduct further testing in the morning.

While at the headquarters, Wagner also had an uncomfortable meeting with Ken Norton Jr., then the team’s linebackers coach. Norton grilled him with personal questions and sharply criticized his game.

“We watched 40 plays,” Wagner later recalled. “The first five were probably the best plays I’ve ever [had] at Utah State and the next 35 were the worst plays I ever had at Utah State, and he just killed me every single play. “

Wagner came to realize Norton was trying to gauge his toughness. But between Norton putting him through the wringer and the concern over his kidneys, Wagner believed it was his worst pre-draft visit.

“I thought that was the last team that was going to pick me,” he said.

The Seahawks had Wagner and Cal’s Mychal Kendricks graded neck and neck throughout the pre-draft process, flip-flopping them on their board a few times. The decision was made for them when the Philadelphia Eagles took Kendricks with the 46th pick, one spot before Seattle’s turn at 47 following a trade back from 43.

“We were really, really blessed the way it worked out because we were going back and forth,” Schneider told ESPN. “We couldn’t decide. And then Kendricks left, so it was pretty easy.”

‘We got to get this guy’

Ten years before Schneider became the Seahawks’ GM, he spent the 2000 season as Seattle’s director of player personnel. In need of a quarterback, the Seahawks’ plan for the following offseason was to one of three things: trade for Matt Hasselbeck (which they did), trade for Mark Brunell or draft Drew Brees, whom they were certain they could get.

Schneider’s scouting of the 6-foot Brees gave him a useful reference point as he dug into Wilson 11 years later. He watched Wilson’s NC State film that summer and saw him in person for the first time in the fall, after Wilson transferred to Wisconsin.

With a few personal connections to then-Badgers coach Bret Bielema, Schneider got the skinny during his October visit to Madison. He heard the stories about Wilson’s meticulous preparation, like how he asked about stadium landmarks – the play clock, scoreboard, tunnels, etc. – so he could visualize it all before he got there. About how he learned the offense within a few weeks of arriving at the school by writing plays on notecards and flipping through them as he walked through campus.

“Then you watch the film,” Schneider said. “… Here he is, this shorter guy playing behind this huge offensive line and he was just so accurate. He just reminded me so much of Drew Brees. When I left there, I was like, ‘Wow, we got to get this guy. ‘”

That weekend, Charlie Whitehurst made a fill-in start for Tarvaris Jackson, who had torn a pectoral muscle two weeks earlier. The Seahawks lost 6-3 to the Cleveland Browns, a rock-bottom moment amid a season-long offensive slog that exposed their need for a quarterback.

Schneider was locked in on Wilson but had to convince the other powers that be, including then-owner Paul Allen, who was skeptical.

Schneider assigned a scouting intern to chart how many balls Wilson had batted down at the line of scrimmage, how often he had to bail out of the pocket because he couldn’t get an open passing lane. The tape showed that his size didn’t seem to limit him.

Carroll called Bud Grant to pick his mentor’s brain on a shorter quarterback he had coached with the Minnesota Vikings, Fran Tarkenton.

“It was a big deal,” Schneider said of Wilson’s height. “There were people in the building that didn’t want to take him.”

But Schneider was determined and was wary of other teams catching on. In addition to his visit to Madison, he saw Wilson play live a month and a half later in the Big Ten title game. The Seahawks met with Wilson at the Senior Bowl and again at the scouting combine.

After that, Schneider laid low. The Wisconsin native who grew up two hours from UW skipped Wilson’s pro day, resisting the urge to see him throw live one more time. He wanted the rest of the NFL to think the Seahawks viewed his height as a deal breaker and hoped other teams would have those misgivings.

The Eagles did not.

“I loved Russell Wilson,” Andy Reid, then Philadelphia’s coach, said last month at the owners meetings. “One of the better interviews I had at the combine.”

The Eagles’ plan, per Reid, was to take Wilson and Nick Foles and let them compete, figuring they’d come away with at least one keeper. They had the 76th pick, one spot behind Seattle at 75.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, had signed veteran Matt Flynn to a bridge-type deal that included $ 10 million in guaranteed money. They also had Jackson, the incumbent starter who had won the locker room after playing through the torn furnace.

With concerns about Wilson’s height enough eased, the Seahawks were intent on drafting him. It was just a question of when. They thought there was a chance he could make it to the fourth round but decided they wouldn’t pass on him in the third.

After taking Wilson at 75, the first of several calls Schneider received from other teams came from Reid, who lamented how Seattle had nabbed the Eagles’ guy.

“We wanted him so bad,” he told Schneider.

Wagner’s and Wilson’s success make it easy to overlook how the Seahawks’ 2012 class was strong beyond just the second- and third-round picks. Irvin has 52 sacks in 10 seasons. Robert Turbin (fourth round) was a nice backfield complement to Marshawn Lynch. Jeremy Lane (sixth) played nickelback in the Legion of Boom and got a second contract from Seattle. Guard JR Sweezy (seventh) made 104 career starts. All were starters or contributors on Seattle’s Super Bowl teams.

Defensive tackle Jaye Howard (fourth) and linebacker Korey Toomer (fifth) were good enough players to latch on elsewhere. Of Seattle’s 10 picks in 2012, all but one played at least 35 NFL games.

While draft analysts scratched their heads at the time, reggae filled the room.

Everything would be more than all right.

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