Recognition is finally starting to come for Bobby Wagner. The third-year linebacker has been given a significant portion of the credit for helping to return the Seahawks defense to elite status. Seattle has allowed just six points and 360 yards in two games since his return from a toe injury. His tackling has stood out. He led the team in tackles both weeks after the Seahawks struggled to get Jamaal Charles to the ground before he returned. In fact, Wagner has led the Seahawks in tackles in every game he has started and finished this season. What most fans may not realize is that he was never supposed to be a Seahawk.
Target #1 – Luke Kuechly
The Seahawks had three players they were targeting in the first round of the 2012 draft, and they would have been happy to get any of them. Those players were Bruce Irvin, a player they saw as the best pass rusher in the draft, S Mark Barron, and LB Luke Kuechly.
They had the 12th overall pick, and had plenty of needs, so trading up was not going to happen. There were some projections that had Kuechly falling as far as Seattle’s pick heading into the draft. Barron was a bigger longshot. Both players were taken among the first ten picks. The Bucs took Barron seventh and the Panthers took Kuechly ninth overall. Had Kuechly fallen three more picks, he would be a Seahawk, and Wagner would not. It is debatable whether Irvin would have lasted until the Seahawks early second-round choice.
Seattle traded out of their #12 pick, to Philadelphia, after Barron and Kuechly were taken. The Seahawks received additional picks that became Jeremy Lane and DE Jaye Howard (since released and now starting for the Chiefs). The Eagles used the Seahawks pick to draft current star DE Fletcher Cox.
Target #2 – Mychal Kendricks
Seattle did not have a pick until #43 in the second round after taking Irvin at #15. A frequent draft tactic of the Seahawks in the John Schneider era is that they will look to trade back if they are approaching their pick and have multiple players they would be happy to take. That was the case here.
The Seahawks liked both Wagner and Mychal Kendricks, so they traded back four spots with the Jets in the hope that at least one of them would still be available when they selected. Sources in the front office would not go on record about their draft board for obvious reasons, but gave plenty of clues that Kendricks would have been their pick had he still been available when they drafted. Instead, the Eagles took him one pick before the Seahawks were on the board, leaving Wagner as the lone remaining option at a position they absolutely needed to address after letting David Hawthorne walk.
The implication, from what I could assess, was that Wagner was highly thought of by the Seahawks coaches and scouts, but they were not sure his best position would end up being middle linebacker. He had played outside a fair amount at Utah St. Kendricks was purely a middle linebacker, and possessed the speed (4.47 40 at the combine) that they coveted. They also knew him well from his Pac 12 playing days.
Had Wagner proved to be a better fit at outside linebacker, that would have been okay, but the Seahawks may have had another player, Lavonte David (taken #58 overall), higher on their board for outside linebackers. The Wagner pick was a modest gamble, but has worked out splendidly.
Seahawks fans who drool over the big receiving target can contemplate what would have been if the team had not traded out of pick 43 and instead selected Alshon Jeffrey, who was taken by the Bears two picks later. The makeup of the team would have certainly shifted had they gone offense instead of defense there.
Key roles on Sunday
Both Kendricks and Wagner figure to be central to the outcome of the Seahawks game in Philadelphia this week.
Kendricks leads the Eagles in tackles and is an effective blitzer with 3.0 sacks. He is solid in coverage as well. His ability to plug the middle against the Seahawks running game and chase down Russell Wilson on scrambles could be the difference. There are not many linebackers playing with his kind of speed, other than Wagner.
The Eagles love to swing the ball wide on screens and swing passes. They also run to the outside more than any other team. Wagner will be crucial to the Seahawks ability to track and tackle those players while others may be stuck on blocks. Picture the jellyfish scene from Finding Nemo. He has certainly proven capable.
Two players who may have been wearing different greens and different wings had the Seahawks chosen to keep their second round pick will play starring roles in this game regardless of the result. There is no doubt Seattle would swap the two on their draft board if they had it to do over again, as Wagner has proven to be the perfect fit both in talent and temperament.
We often wring our hands as fans about the player who got away or the pick that did not work out. Wagner was one of multiple picks in that 2012 class that far exceeded reasonable expectations. Be sure to thank the next Eagles fan you see for making it possible.