With the 47th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Utah State.
No offense, Bobby, but your new coach, Pete Carroll, wanted no part of you on that April day 19 months ago. His sights were fixed on a smaller prize of greater potential value: 5-11, 206-pound Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.
“It killed us not to take Russell in the second round,” Carroll said Wednesday. “But we made it through [to the third round].”
But first, Carroll and the Seahawks would have to weather 27 picks before going back on the clock. The Vikings were among those who passed, taking cornerback Josh Robinson 66th overall. The Bills also joined them at No. 69 (receiver T.J. Graham), while the No. 70 Jaguars (punter Brian Anger) and No. 74 Chiefs (offensive tackle Donald Stephenson) followed.
Then, with the 75th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Seahawks selected Wilson, or, as Carroll calls him, the “franchise changer.” And that pick came just a month after the Seahawks had appeared to settle their quarterback situation by signing Matt Flynn as their starter via free agency. “I’m just glad that [General Manager] John Schneider figured it out and led the charge,” Carroll said. “We didn’t want to miss a chance on [Wilson], but John is extremely savvy and knew the lay of the land. He knew we could do it. He couldn’t have been more correct in every way, from evaluating him to determining where to take him, that he was a great kid and that he could change the fortunes of the franchise.”
Twenty-six regular-season games later, Wilson, 24, leads the NFC-leading Seahawks (9-1) into a home game against the 2-7 Vikings, whose race for quarterback of the future is a neck-and-neck-and-neck battle between current starter Christian Ponder, recently signed Josh Freeman and a prospect in next year’s draft.
Wilson enters the game as the fifth-ranked quarterback in the league. He’s completing 63.4 percent of his passes (163 of 324) for 2,132 yards (8.3 per attempt), 17 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 101.8 passer rating. Throw in the league’s No. 2-ranked running game led by Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch and the probable Seattle debut of Percy Harvin and, well, things could get troublesome for the Vikings’ 30th-ranked defense on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“Their quarterback really, really makes a big difference,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “He makes everybody better.”
So, once again, quarterback-needy teams throughout the league are left looking at the evolution of another former hidden gem and asking whether they could have done anything differently during a draft preparation process that’s already beyond exhaustive.
Carroll was asked to name the greatest trait about Wilson that so many teams missed on draft day. He chose to look at it another way.
“I think it’s what they feared,” Carroll said. “They feared that he wasn’t big enough to play. There’s nothing about his game that isn’t just extraordinary. … They missed it because of the factor that he wasn’t as tall as people thought he needed to be. We didn’t care about that. We wanted to know how it was going to pan out. We weren’t really sure. That’s why we [took] him in the third round.”
Wilson was asked the same question.
“One of the things I always pride myself on,” he said, “is always being poised in clutch situations.”
Wilson said he aspires to be “like Tom Brady and Drew Brees and the Peyton Mannings of the world.” To do that, he said, one needs to do more than put up good numbers.
“When situations arise, you want your quarterback to be the calm in the storm,” he said. “That’s what I try to bring to the table.”
Since 1970, the record for wins by a quarterback in his first two seasons is 22, by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. Wilson sits at 20 with six more regular-season games left. He’s also 12-0 at home and 16-2 in his past 18 games. And in those past 18 games, his 109.5 passer rating ranks second in the NFL behind Manning’s 112.7.
“I believe in my talent,” Wilson said. “I believe that my height doesn’t define my skill set. I believe that I can do everything I can to play at a high level.”
Next up for Wilson is a Vikings pass defense tied for last in touchdown passes (21) and in the bottom seven in completion percentage (66.9), first downs (141), yards per game (285.7) and passer rating (98.4).
And, oh yeah, about Bobby Wagner, that second-round pick from little Utah State? Well, he starts at middle linebacker and is the third-leading tackler on the league’s No. 3-ranked defense.
Talk about win-win.