Seahawks proving experts wrong with 2012 draft class

There is a lot to like about the Seattle Seahawks’ top decision makers.

From the non-stop energy of head coach Pete Carroll to the laid-back demeanor of general manager John Schneider, to their “fantastic collaboration” — as former Seahawks president Tod Leiweke put it — that at times seems more fit for a buddy comedy film than an NFL front office.

But the best thing about Carroll and Schneider? They don’t give a damn what you or I or any of the so-called experts think when it comes to judging talent. Particularly not on draft weekend.

And heading into today’s game in Toronto, the Seahawks are playoff contenders in no small part because Carroll and Schneider weren’t afraid to go against the grain in April.

The Seahawks trust the ability of Schneider and his scouting department to evaluate talent, and they believe in Carroll and his coaching staff’s ability to develop it. And that’s why, eight months after Seattle’s 2012 draft class was panned as one of the worst in the NFL, the Seahawks are contending for an NFC playoff spot while relying heavily on rookies, including one at the most important position in the game.

Russell Wilson, the quarterback who was too short and should have been taken in the fifth or sixth round, not the third? He’s having one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Bobby Wagner, the linebacker from a small college who was athletic but something of an unknown coming out of Utah State? He’s the team’s leading tackler, has three interceptions, and is calling plays for one of the NFL’s best defenses. And Bruce Irvin, the pass rusher who was a huge reach in the first round? He leads all NFL rookies with eight sacks, which already stands as a franchise rookie record.

And let’s not forget sixth-round pick Jeremy Lane, who has been a huge contributor on special teams, and who because of injuries and a suspension is now playing meaningful snaps at cornerback. Or running back Robert Turbin, a fourth-round pick who had his first career 100-yard game last week, and who makes the prospect of playing a game without Marshawn Lynch significantly less daunting than it was last season, when the offense disappeared when Lynch was a game-day scratch because of back spasms. Or defensive end Greg Scruggs, the Seahawks’ last pick who has carved out a significant role in the defensive line rotation and has two sacks. Or J.R. Sweezy, a seventh-round pick who moved from defensive tackle to guard, and is battling for a starting job despite having not played offensive line since he was a child.

It’s hardly unusual for rookies to come into the NFL and make an impact; this is a young man’s league, after all. But it is rare for a team that still has legitimate playoff aspirations in December to lean on rookies at positions as important as quarterback and middle linebacker.

And even if the draft pundits acted in April like Carroll and Schneider had jumped the gun on I-502, it turns out their way was the best way for a franchise that now, more than ever, appears to be in very capable hands. And it wasn’t just the decision makers who knew this rookie class could be special, critics be damned. The rookies themselves sensed a potential for greatness from their first rookie minicamp in May.

“I had a great, great feeling about it, just the passion and energy we brought to practice every day,” said Wilson, who with 20 touchdown passes through 13 games is within striking distance of Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record of 26. “You wanted to see if that was going to continue into the summer and into the season. Everybody talks about that rookie wall. Well we haven’t hit it. I really don’t believe we’ve hit it, not anywhere close. We’re ready to go.”

Nope, rather than hit a rookie wall, this class ran through it like Marshawn Lynch running through the 2010 Saints defense. The rookie class that was widely panned in April? It’s now helping the Seahawks chase a division title behind a quarterback and linebacker who are rookie-of-the year candidates, and a handful of other rookies who are making important contributions to the best team Carroll has had in Seattle.

“We all said we wanted to be the best draft class,” Wagner said. “So we’ve got to go out there and prove it.”

There is still plenty to prove for this group — 13 games hardly make a career — but based on the early returns, it is safe to say, now more than ever, that the Seahawks are in good hands, even if they do leave us scratching our heads on draft day.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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