Fantastic Friday: Looking back on how the Seahawks won the 2012 NFL draft

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

Don’t worry … about one thing … for every little thing … will be fine.

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

Still, that Friday afternoon, ten years ago, reassurance might have been necessary.

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 rating from most analysts than where Seattle took him as No. 15 overall. The second-round pick, Bobby Wagner, was a linebacker from a small Utah State school with a small frame, not to mention a medical problem that was discovered during a pre-draft visit. The third round, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, was a shadow under 5-foot-11. Not exactly the ideal height for the game’s main position.

The teachers had a field day.

But what no one knew at the time was that Seattle beat gold for the third year in a row, 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 the Pro Football Reference – and others key parts to a list that would win the Super Bowl a season later.

As difficult as it may have been for Seahawks fans to see the team swap Wilson and release Wagner the same day last month, there was something fitting about the symmetry as they had crafted 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 selection of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to get two franchise icons:

‘I thought it was the last team that would choose me’

Not since 1996 has an NFL team drafted two Hall of Fame players in the same class. The Baltimore Ravens did the same year with linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this has only happened seven other times since the joint draft era began in 1967. Of those eight cases, the Raiders were from 1968 – choosing quarterback Ken Stabler in the second round and offensive tackle by Art Shell in the third – is the only team that did not draft at least one of their same year Hall of Famers in the first round.

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

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

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

Due to a battle with pneumonia, he was unable to participate in the scout combine. It was only on his trip to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center that the Seahawks’ medical staff discovered a kidney disease that, as Wagner would later explain, makes it difficult to take anti-inflammatory drugs. The team had to convince him to stay overnight so it could perform further tests in the morning.

While at headquarters, Wagner also had an unpleasant encounter with Ken Norton Jr., then the team’s linebacker coach. Norton grilled him with personal questions and sharply criticized his play.

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

Wagner realized that Norton was trying to measure its hardness. But between Norton putting him through the wreck and worrying about his kidneys, Wagner thought it was his worst visit before the draft.

“I thought it was the last team that would pick me,” he said.

The Seahawks had Wagner and Cals 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, a place before Seattle’s turn with 47 after a return from 43.

“We were really, really blessed, the way it worked because we went back and forth,” Schneider told ESPN. “We could not decide. And then Kendricks left, so it was pretty easy.”

‘We need to get hold of this guy’

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

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

With a few personal connections to then-Badgers coach Bret Bielema, Schneider became thin during his visit to Madison in October. He heard the stories of Wilson’s careful preparation, such as how he asked about the stadium’s landmarks – the game clock, the scoreboard, the 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 school by writing plays on notecards and flipping through them as he walked through campus.

“Then you see the movie,” Schneider said. “… Here he is, this shorter guy who played behind this huge offensive line, and he was just so accurate. He just reminded me so much of Drew Brees. When I walked away, I thought, ‘Wow, we have to come this guy. ‘”

This weekend, Charlie Whitehurst started off for Tarvaris Jackson, who had torn a pectoral muscle two weeks earlier. The Seahawks lost 6-3 to the Cleveland Browns, a moment at the bottom in the middle of a season-long offensive battle that revealed their need for a quarterback.

Schneider was locked in Wilson, but had to convince the other rulers, including then-owner Paul Allen, who were skeptical.

Schneider assigned a scout trainee to map how many balls Wilson had hit down the line, how often he had to save out of pocket because he could not get an open passing lane. The tape showed that his size did not seem to limit him.

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

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

But Schneider was determined and was on guard against 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.

Then Schneider lay low. The Wisconsin native, who grew up two hours from UW, skipped Wilson’s pro day and resisted the urge to watch him throw live again. He wanted the rest of the NFL to think the Seahawks saw his height as a deal breaker, hoping other teams would have those concerns.

The Eagles did not.

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

According to Reid, the Eagles’ plan was to take Wilson and Nick Foles and let them compete, assuming they would get away with at least one goalkeeper. They had the 76th choice, a place 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 established starter who had won the locker room after playing his way through the torn pec.

When worries about Wilson’s height were sufficiently eased, the Seahawks tried to pull him off. It was just a matter of when. They thought there was a chance he could advance to the fourth round, but decided they would not pass him on 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 caught the Eagles’ guy.

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

Wagner and Wilson’s success makes 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 great backfield complement to Marshawn Lynch. Jeremy Lane (sixth) played nickelback in the Legion of Boom and got another contract from Seattle. Guard JR Sweezy (seventh) made 104 career starts. Everyone was a starter or contributor to Seattle’s Super Bowl team.

Defensive tackle Jaye Howard (fourth) and linebacker Korey Toomer (fifth) were good enough players to hold 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 space.

Everything would be more than okay.

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