Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Morning After: Draft Day 2

Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson sound more like insurance salesmen from the Midwest than elite athletes starting their NFL careers in Seattle. Irvin took center stage on Thursday by becoming the Seahawks surprise first-round pick. Wagner and Wilson shared the spotlight yesterday as the Seahawks looked to address their gap at linebacker, and add a quarterback whose ceiling is entirely determined by his height.

Wilson was a curious pick to some. Seattle just signed Matt Flynn. They already have Tarvaris Jackson, and Josh Portis showed promise as a developmental prospect. Teams don't keep four quarterbacks on the roster, and neither Portis nor Wilson would be safe on the Practice Squad. John Schneider and Pete Carroll didn't add a quarterback to the roster so much last night as they removed one. We just won't know which one for a little while.

In Wilson, the team adds an elite athlete who hung with Andrew Luck (#1 overall pick) and Robert Griffin III (#2 overall) in nearly every combine test.


People can argue that these measurements don't matter for quarterbacks, but they would be wrong. Players like Luck, RG3, and Cam Newton are taken at the top of the draft precisely because they combine athletic talent with quarterback skills. Ask Ryan Mallett if just displaying elite passing ability is enough. Wilson doesn't lack for quarterbacking talent either.

He set the NCAA record for passing efficiency in 2011 when he threw for over 3000 yards, a 10.3 average per attempt, 33 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Griffin, the Heisman winner, threw for more yards and 4 more touchdowns in a pass-oriented fast break offense. Wilson completed a higher percentage of his passes than Griffin, which is stunning considering many of Griffin's passes were short swing passes and bubble screens.

Scouts, analysts, and coaches universally praise Wilson's accuracy, arm strength, footwork, and make-up. Watching Wilson practice before the Senior Bowl was more impressive than what he has done in games. He was taking mental snaps, and referencing the play chart on his forearm, every single rep someone took. He is obsessed with preparation. Hold your index finger 2-3 inches apart. That's the difference between Wilson being a Top 10 draft choice and being taken in the 3rd round. That's exactly the type of quarterback that is worth risking a 3rd round draft choice on. When I look at Russell Wilson, I see Drew Brees. When Hugh Millen looks at Russell Wilson, he sees Seneca Wallace. Time will tell.

Wagner is a tough read. He's a violent hitter with top-shelf speed who can play all three linebacker positions.  I watched the Senior Bowl again last night, and he was arguably the best linebacker on the field. He played SAM the whole time, lined up right over the tight end, and dropped into zone coverage the majority of time. He had an athletic, leaping, interception. He made multiple tackles on special teams coverage. He broke up a possible touchdown pass at the goal line. His most impressive play may have been dropping into a flat zone before reading the screen pass and accelerating into the backfield to bring down the running back before the play developed.

He appears big enough, fast enough, and violent enough to be a solid addition to the linebacking corps. My hesitation largely comes from watching the Schneider/Carroll post-draft press conference, and questions about whether Wagner has a high enough ceiling to be a worthwhile 2nd round pick. Watch the first few minutes of the press conference. Notice that the first thing Schneider says is that it is hard to watch players you spent so much time with slip off the board and go to other teams. He could have just seen a player get drafted late in the 3rd round that he hoped to get in the 4th. Or, he could have been talking about losing a player they wanted when trading back in the 2nd round. A player like LB Mychal Kendricks, who was drafted one spot ahead of the Seahawks, comes to mind. Schneider also threw almost all questions about Wagner to Carroll. Carroll was excited, but not thrilled. He almost defensively threw out that at least two other teams told them Wagner would not have made it through the 2nd round. That's not a big number, especially when 17 teams are picking behind you. Schneider stressed that the team was focused on addressed the linebacker spot. That was also a red flag that screamed drafting need over value.

Wagner will come in and add talent to the team. He will almost certainly start, with the early indications being that the team wants him to win the MIKE position, even though K.J. Wright will take play-calling responsibilities. My hope was that the team would add a star to the linebacking crew. I'm not convinced they did that with Wagner. My bet is that Wagner will wind up being a SAM, and Wright will shift to MIKE. The team is saying otherwise, but we'll see.

The starting linebackers will probably be Wagner, Wright and Leroy Hill. When Malcolm Smith and Wagner are on the field at the same time, the Seahawks will feature rockets on the outside, with Irvin, Jason Jones and Chris Clemons along the line. Carroll set out to make his defense faster and more explosive this off-season, and there is little doubt he has done exactly that.

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