DK Edit: I wrote this on March 28th, but it might be worth another read now that the Seahawks have selected Russell Wilson with their 3rd round pick.
Russell Wilson is an interesting potential pick for the Seahawks, and he's one player that I've pretty much ignored until this point, other than one time making the joke on twitter that when you shake hands with Wilson, it's like grabbing a bunch of bananas. (Wilson has huge hands).
The reason I've mostly ignored Wilson is in a blind hope that the Seahawks had no interest in him. If I'm being honest, I'd say that I'm sick of this team trying to beat the odds with fringe players, especially at the quarterback position. How many 5'11 QBs are there starting for teams right now? (Hint: None)
It's just a fact of life that it's extremely beneficial to be over about 6'2 or so in the NFL because you need to see over your linemen and you need to be able to see downfield well enough to make some passes. You can talk about mobile quarterbacks and running boot action and having a moving pocket, but every team in the NFL needs a quarterback that can make a throw from the pocket on 3rd and 9 at some point, when his team is behind and trying to drive down the field, as our friend Greg Cosell might say.
Drew Brees gets away with his height disadvantage because of his elite arm strength and a talent for anticipation, and probably a lot of hard work and preparation that has come from years in the NFL, but he is decidedly the exception to the rule.
Well, here's the thing - with the Seahawks signing Matt Flynn, it has become less evident that they'll take a quarterback in rounds one or two this year, and if they're planning on taking a QB in the 3rd round or later, the most talented player still available is probably going to be Russell Wilson, and he's mostly going to be there still because of his height.
My mindset on a potential Wilson pick recently has gone from "dear god not another weird QB experiment" to "well, if we're going to take a mid-round QB it should damn well be this guy or Ryan Lindley."
As an aside, I've become intrigued with Lindley lately because Greg Cosell has now said a few times that he makes the most 'wow' throws of any quarterback in the draft this year - and yes, that includes Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The problem with Lindley is his consistency, but if an NFL team could harness those natural talents of throwing the football and help create some consistency, he could be a huge steal in the middle rounds. Cosell has said on a couple of occasions that if you splice together all of Lindley's best throws from 2011, you'd see him as a potential first round pick. The problem is, of course, is his splice reel of errant passes, which Cosell admits will drop him in the draft. (Make sure you listen to Doug Farrar's conversation with Cosell on QBs in this year's draft).
The Lindley conversation is for another day and I'll admit that I admire and respect Cosell's analysis of quarterbacks, but applicable here is that the NFL Films' executive producer does not seem to be a big fan of Russell Wilson, recently comparing him on several occasions to Seneca Wallace. Wind in my sails for Russell Wilson, significantly diminished.
Still, I'm intrigued with Wilson. The main QBs we've all talked about up until now - Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, - they're all going to be gone by the end of the 2nd round, most likely, and I can see the Seahawks going defense in rounds one and two, then maybe even waiting until round four before looking at QBs seriously. After the past two drafts, it wouldn't surprise me if they wait even longer.
What that leaves are a few interesting prospects - B.J. Coleman, Aaron Corp, Chandler Harnish, Austin Davis - and my two preferences at the moment - Ryan Lindley, and the subject of this article, Russell Wilson.
So, what do the Seahawks do? Who might they like? An excerpt from a scouting report by former Personnel Executive and Pro Scout Tony Softli had me scratching my chin (Softli has been the VP Player Personnel at the St. Louis Rams, the Director of College Scouting at the Carolina Panthers, a coach at the University of Washington, and was most recently interviewed as a candidate for the then-vacant General Manager job with the 49ers after now-Seahawks exec Scot McCloughan was fired in 2010).
Softli on Wilson, one of his top-five QBs in this draft:
"First-Round Talent, but height knocks him into the third round for most, if not all NFL teams."
Here's what's intriguing about Wilson, and why he, of all sub-6'0 QBs out there right now, may have a better chance of making it in the NFL than most. He's a four year starter for NC State and Wisconsin and the physical measureables go beyond just a similar height to Drew Brees. He shares Brees' attributes of good arm length and hand size for a player his height, with 31" arms and 10 1/4" hands (Brees has 31 1/2" arms and 10" hands). Arm length and hand size are a couple of important physical features on a quarterback, subordinate to height, but that actually matter a lot when it comes to generating velocity and gripping the football.
Wilson knows the comparison and models his game after the Super Bowl winner. For comparison, Brees is 6'0, 215 and Wilson is currently 5'11, 205.
"I watch a lot of film on him," Wilson said. "I'm trying to get to his level, obviously. He's a great individual. I've read his book 'Coming Back Stronger' several times and I look up to him for the way he handles his business on the field, but, more importantly, off the field. Chris (Weinke) and I have talked a lot about Drew and how Drew is a tremendous competitor and relentless. That's the way I believe I am personally. We've also talked a lot about how Drew has great feet and how hard he's worked at that and that's one of the things I'm working on here."
As for the less favorable common comparison out there, Greg Cosell isn't the only person see Wilson akin to Seneca Wallace, who - you may remember - is still playing in the league as a capable backup. Though, obviously, and importantly, this front office did trade Wallace almost immediately after taking the reins.
Respected sportswriter Bob McGinn did a piece on Wilson back in December, and recorded some quotes from several scouts doing their early evaluations. Said one NFC personnel man:
"He's a lot better than (Robert) Griffin, but Griffin will win the Heisman and that stuff," the scout said at the time, which Griffin did. "Russell might make 5-11 at the combine. He's mid-rounds. Seneca Wallace has played all these years and Russell is better than Seneca."
"What separates Wilson from Seneca Wallace is his ability to find the window and not get balls batted down. He has good enough arm strength. He has touch and leadership. He's smart as crap, he's got really good feet, he moves fluidly and he never gets rattled."
Wilson, obviously, isn't too concerned with his height disadvantage. "Honestly, I believe the height's not a factor at all. That's the way I look at it, to be honest with you. I started over 50 games in college and did well. I played behind the fourth-biggest offensive line in the entire country and that's including the NFL. I think that's really important. The fact that those guys average 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, shows I can play behind them and be very efficient and effective."
A lot of people look at scheme fit when projecting quarterbacks, and Wilson has one advantage of playing in multiple systems in college after transferring from NC State to Wisconsin midway through his college career. "I have no regrets at all. I think it's going to only help me in the NFL. I played in a West Coast offense at NC State and had to transfer to a great new team in Wisconsin and learn a whole new system, a vertical, play-action-style offense. I think the fact I learned it so quickly is a great thing for NFL teams to notice. But, also, it was a great learning tool for me."
Back to Tony Softli, scouting report, which I found to be pretty interesting:
Former baseball player and quarterback throughout his collegiate career. Height hurts this player in the draft ranking for all 32 teams. Despite his size, this young man is a playmaker, and the difference in several of the Badgers' wins in 2011. A natural born leader per several sources at both collegiate stops (North Carolina State and Wisconsin) with excellent athletic skill set and is extremely football intelligent and a well spoken and bright young man. Has aligned in both traditional (under center) and shotgun, with very good set-up quickness in three-, five- and seven-step drops, with punch step and anchor to bounce with eyes downfield.
Has very good rhythm, timing and anticipation of receivers in routes. Release point is over ear with very good accuracy both short and deep. Undersized quarterback with very good arm strength to make all the throws needed for the next level. Very good pocket awareness to slide and avoid defenders, reset feet and make the big throw, or leak into space and ad lib on the move. If trapped has the ability with the combination of speed, burst and acceleration and change of direction as a down field threat with very good production, an exciting player on the move. Wilson makes good decisions in the pocket or in space. Good pre-snap reads to recognize coverages and blitz packages, can audible and set protections.
Very productive; handles a two-minute drill with ease. Wilson is very competitive with toughness and the desire to be great; you see it in his play. Plays bigger then measured, height doesn't affect his downfield vision, to look through timbers (offensive linemen), which I saw on film and live at the Senior Bowl. A NFL team will adapt like Wisconsin did, implementing an offense with boots, waggles, rollouts, play-action and use Wilson's natural ability to ad lib on the move outside the pocket as a change-of-pace weapon. He was also effective as a receiver as well on throw-back plays.
Wilson was extremely effective on third-down efficiency both as a passer and a runner to improvise. Speaking with this player at the Combine, Russell said he loves baseball, but his heart is set on playing in the NFL. A true playmaker, Wilson's DNA (film) jumps out at you, tells me he can develop into a starter at the next level.
Career Production: Games played/games started 51/50, completions 907, attempts 1,489, completion percentage 60.9, yards 11,720, yards per attempt 7.9, touchdowns 109, interceptions 30. First-Round Talent, but height knocks him into the third round for most if not all NFL teams.
Former Packers GM and John Schneider mentor Ron Wolf compared Russell Wilson not to Seneca Wallace, but to Joe Theisman - who was listed at 6'0, 198 back in the 80's. A departure from the other usual suspects that Wilson is compared to in Doug Flutie (5'8 1/2) and Fran Tarkenton (6'0), (both of whom Wilson has studied tape on, by the way).
"(Theismann) had a thickness to him in his lower body that enabled him to play," said Wolf. "He was a little thicker than his size indicated because he was big-boned. He was tiny-framed in his upper body."
Wolf has observed Wilson, who has a sculpted chest and arms, on television and sees no reason to disqualify him. "He is better than some of the short guys who are trying to play in the league now," said Wolf. "If he has the ability to play he will play.
"I've often felt, at that position, you can make it work. I think it is about the size of the fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog in the fight at the quarterback position."
"The size of the fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog in the fight at the quarterback position"? A guy that can 'tilt the field?' A 'competitor?'
I might not have a great enthusiasm for those attributes, but I know two people that do. (Hint: It's John Schneider and Pete Carroll).
Not all the reviews have been glowing and not all have to do with his height. There are some questions about his ability to throw in the pocket, and his arm strength has been questioned. One AFC scout said at the Combine:
"Someone's going to have to believe in him. You might have to go to a certain style or scheme. Height's a little bit of an issue. But he had a pretty good completion percentage in a pro-style offense."
From that same article, an executive in personnel for an AFC team said, "Somebody will take him in the third or fourth round, but I could not. There's just no way. I know some people that really like him. He's going to get overdrafted." His showing at the Combine was "as advertised. There was no wow factor. He kind of has an arching ball. Probably because of his height he's forced to arch the ball a little bit."
So, obviously, there's a level of subjectivity in scouting.
Let's get back to the Seahawks' stated desire at quarterback and why Wilson, in my opinion, is likely a real option for this franchise, as a back up at the least, whether I like it or not. (Which, I haven't really figured out).
Pete Carroll, the ultimate decision maker:
"We're looking for a great competitor. We're looking for a guy that can really carry it when it's tough and make plays when you need it to happen, that affects guys around him in a real positive way because of what he brings," Carroll said.
"There's a lot more to it than just physical stature, but really, we'd like to have a guy that can run a little bit and complement the running game and do something for us -- get out on the edge and threaten enough to keep the run game that we're so committed to alive and at its best."
John Schneider on Brock and Salk a few weeks ago:
"Okay, before we get into all the specifics of the position, and everyone can argue about it what's more important, we can talk about feet, whether it be delivery quickness, anticipation, poise, game-management skills, the number one thing to me is a guy that tilts the field.
You have to be able to see that live, you have to be able to see how he handles his teammates, if he's a guy that can have a certain charisma about him, and then you have to get into 'where's the ball end up?"
How does he manage the game, what's he like on third downs? How does he handle pressure? Is he staring at the pressure coming at him or does he keep his eyes down the field? Can he square his shoulders, can he back out? Can he move? You have to be able to move in this league."
"You have to be able to move and avoid shots and keep your eyes down the field. You know, like Ron Jaworski would say on MNF, "You gotta be able to STARE DOWN THE GUN BARRELLLLL."
There's no doubt that Wilson can move - at the Combine he ran a 4.5, second only to RG3, and put up impressive numbers in the 3-cone and short shuttle drills (6.97 and 4.03 seconds, respectively). Though the Hawks would be stupid to ignore the physical abilities and capability to make all the necessary throws, they obviously highly value leadership and poise at that position. Harder to evaluate. Their evaluation criteria are another story - which I'll attempt to broach soon, but it appears Wilson hits on a lot of their desires.
Russ Lande, a respected analyst and former scout for the Rams, offered his analysis of Wilson at the Wisconsin Pro Day:
Wilson put on an impressive passing display. He clearly has an NFL-caliber arm and can make all the throws. He had excellent accuracy on short passes, and he showed good touch and accuracy on deep balls. He was inconsistent on intermediate throws, hoever.
A source who attended the workout said Wisconsin coaches considered Wilson the best leader to come through the program in many years. The fifth-year senior and N.C. State transfer was voted a team captain in his only season with the Badgers.
Wilson is unlikely to start in the NFL because of his height (5-11), but we believe he'd be an ideal backup to Carolina Panthers starter Cam Newton. He has elite athleticism and good passing skills, as he showed in Wednesday's workout, and his knowledge of the game will allow him to easily run the Panthers' offense. An NFL source who attended the Wisconsin workout concurred.
If the Seahawks do take a look at him, Wilson would be considerably shorter than the rest of their experiments at the position thus far. Charlie Whitehurst was tall, and so was Matt Hasselbeck. Zac Robinson was 6'3, 215. So was Mike Reilly. So is Josh Portis. Matt Flynn is 6'2. So is Tarvaris Jackson. Will this height issue matter for the Seahawks? I don't know. Wilson does share the mobility that most of the aforementioned QBs have and he is pretty renowned for maturity and leadership.
Brock Huard really, really likes Wilson. I respect Huard as an analyst of the game, so it's interesting.
You can watch the tape below and judge for yourself.
Wilson's line his senior year: 225 of 309 passing (72.5%), for 3175 yards, 33 TD to 4 interceptions. He also rushed for 338 yards and 6 touchdowns.