Rookies worth watching

Posted Nov 13, 2012

In Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, the Seahawks obtained three uniquely talented players with their first three picks in April’s NFL Draft who filled specific needs.

John Schneider, stand up and take a bow.

And while we’re at it, you too, Scott Fitterer, the Seahawks’ director of college scouting; and area scouts Jason Barnes, Eric Stokes and Matt Berry and Aaron Hineline, who scour the regions that produced the first three players the Seahawks selected in April’s NFL Draft.

The Seahawks entered the offseason with specific needs, and needed specific players with the unique qualities that coach Pete Carroll covets and GM Schneider has been so good at finding. And look what their first three selections delivered, and what those players have delivered in the team’s 6-4 start – the Seahawks’ best since 2007:

Bruce Irvin – The selection of the rush-end from West Virginia with the 15th pick overall caught more than just a few by surprise. But after collecting two more sacks in Sunday’s 28-7 thumping of the New York Jets at CenturyLink Field, Irvin has seven to lead all NFL rookies and share the team lead with “Leo” end Chris Clemons

Bobby Wagner – When the team decided against re-signing three-time leading tackler David Hawthorne in free agency, the plan for filling the hole in the middle of the defense was to sign a veteran and also draft a middle linebacker. The Seahawks could have just fast-forwarded to second part of that plan, as Wagner won the job so convincingly that veteran Barrett Ruud was traded in August. All the rookie from Utah State has done is lead the team in tackles with 81 and also contribute two of the Seahawks’ 28 sacks – which is five fewer than they had all of last season; which is why getting Irvin in the first round was Priority One. 

Russell Wilson – The QB from Wisconsin and North Carolina State is still “too short,” but it hasn’t stopped him from producing some tall-order statistics. Like 5-0, his record at CenturyLink Field, making Wilson the first rookie since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 to win his first five at home. Like 11 and 0, his touchdown pass and interceptions totals in those five games. Like 90.5, his passer rating, which ranks 12th in the league and is No. 2 behind the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (93.9) among the five rookie QBs who are starting. Like 96.2, his passer rating in the fourth quarter, when his five TD passes have won two games – should have won another – and sealed the deal on a third.

A year ago, these three were just about done. Not done as in stick a fork in them, but done as in almost finished with their final college seasons.

“I think the biggest thing is to relax the mind and relaxing the body more than anything,” Wilson said after Sunday’s game when asked about his plans for the bye week. “It’s been a long season so far.”

But they’re just getting started. Because the Seahawks will emerge from their bye week to play back-to-back games in Miami and Chicago, before hosting each of the other three teams in the NFC West during their final four games. So the play of Irvin, Wagner and especially Wilson down the stretch will help determine whether the Seahawks play into the postseason.

As well as they’ve already played, there are signs to indicate that each can give even more.

With Irvin, it starts with getting him on the field more. His seven sacks have come on limited snaps, because he usually plays opposite Clemons only on passing downs.

“He’s exactly where we thought he would be,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t a major projection for us. We saw (in college) what we needed to see. He’s a factor right away, which is what we had hoped for. … He’s so fast … it’s just a really good aspect of what he brings.”

With Wagner, he only seems to be getting better – not to mention more productive – with each game. Limited to the base defense at the start of the season, Wagner has been added to the nickel and other sub packages and now rarely leaves the field. As a result, 53 of his 81 tackles – and all three of his double-digit efforts – have come in the past five games.

“Bobby Wagner, I’m really impressed with,” said linebackers coach Ken Norton, a Pro Bowl linebacker during his career with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. “Really athletic. Really strong mentally. Really smart. Really cares about what he does.

“Am I surprised? No, we drafted him pretty high. When you draft somebody that high – in the second round – we expect him to be an impact player, and he has been that. And there’s such a tremendous upside to him.”

There is similar statistical evidence to indicate that Wilson also is progressing as the season does. Because he has shown he can do more, the coaches are allowing him to do more. In the past three games, he has completed 68 percent of his passes (53 of 78) for 597 yards, with seven touchdowns and one interception, for a 115.2 passer rating.

“He’s clearly done a better job of making more use of the opportunity to throw the football,” Carroll said. “He’s such a unique kid. He’s just done everything you could ever ask.”

It was Tarvaris Jackson, the QB that Wilson replaced, who first uttered what has become so apparent.

“Russell, he’s not like a regular rookie,” Jackson said, before being traded to the Buffalo Bills in September.

Jackson could have been talking about Wagner and Irvin, as well.