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Seahawks 30 under 30: Bobby Wagner, an inside linebacker unlike any other

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NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have a very good roster, but what's especially nice and hopeful about their team is that the vast majority of current Seahawks are young and signed through 2017, at least. This series leading up to the regular season opener on September 11 will take a closer look at 30 such players, all of whom won't be turning 30 this year.

Player: Bobby Wagner, LB

Age: 26

How acquired: Second round pick (47th overall) out of Utah State in 2012 NFL Draft

Free agent: 2020

What do you remember about David Hawthorne? I remember him for being the pre-Doug Baldwin, pre-Pete Carroll realization that undrafted free agents could be good. I remember an interception returned for a touchdown in 2011 against the Eagles in a 31-14 win that felt like a turning point for the Seahawks. (His seventh interception in a three-season span.) One of the only good players to be turned over from Jim Mora to Carroll, Hawthorne is not without his flaws, but losing him in free agency in 2012 to the Saints (5 years, $19 million) felt like a step backwards for a defense that had taken so many steps forward during the previous season.

And then we realized that things could be so much better at middle linebacker.

Sitting in the middle of the second round at pick 47, Seattle was thought to be targeting a linebacker and many fans were hoping for Mychal Kendricks out of Cal. Fewer knew what to expect (or what they felt they should expect) from a linebacker out of small school Utah State, a program that hadn’t produced many notable players outside of Merlin Olsen, Cornell Green, Donald Penn, and Chris Cooley over the last 50 years. Well, that didn’t matter anyway after the Eagles took Kendricks at pick 46.

Wagner sat at home watching the draft, knowing he had done everything in his power after a Pro Day in which he matched Kendricks’ 4.45 in the forty, his 39.5” vertical jump, and had beaten almost every other prospect who had been invited to the combine by having a broad jump of 11-feet despite his 235-lb frame. Then Wagner got a call from a team telling him they were going to draft him. That team?

The New England Patriots.

According to Wagner, the Pats called him just before he was picked to tell them that they were going to take him after the Seahawks were finished taking whoever they’re going to take. Instead, Seattle took Wagner before New England ever had a chance, and the Patriots took safety Tavon Wilson. (The Seahawks also drafted a Wilson in 2012, 27 picks later though, so he probably won’t pan out.)

Four years later, here’s what we know about second round picks in the 2012 draft: Only three of those players have made the Pro Bowl and the only one to do it twice is Wagner. (The other two are Alshon Jeffery and Lavonte David.) Wagner and David are the only ones to be named as an All-Pro. Of every player in the 2012 draft, regardless of round, Russell Wilson has the highest career AV (Pro-Football-Reference’s Adjusted Value metric), then Luke Kuechly is second, and Wagner is third.

Using his speed to be all over the field at any given time, Wagner has five interceptions, 9.5 sacks as a middle linebacker, 22 passes defensed, and last season alone he had two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns off of fumbles. In 2014, he had 135 tackles despite missing five games.

Hawthorne recently signed a one-year deal with the Bills as he fights for his NFL life. Kendricks is a fine linebacker. David is a very good linebacker. Kuechly is a great linebacker, albeit one who cost the Panthers the ninth overall pick. But regardless of cost or draft position or anything else, there isn’t a middle linebacker in the league who I would rather see on the Seahawks than Wagner. He’s the number one pick in the middle linebacker draft for me. Not just because he’s a perfect fit for Carroll’s defense or because I’m biased, but because even as amazing as he is or as experienced as he is, Wagner is still barely 26. He should be the man in the middle for Seattle for at least another six years.

Thank you to David Hawthorne for your exciting plays in 2010 and 2011, but especially for leaving in free agency in 2012 to open the door for one of the NFL’s best to take your place.