How Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson Improbably Became a Top NFL Talent

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How Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson Improbably Became a Top NFL Talent

Russell Wilson’s road to the NFL featured numerous twists and turns before the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. Coming out of high school, Wilson was a low-level 2-star recruit who was the 67th-best quarterback in his class, according to Scout.com.

The 2-star rating seemed to be a slap in the face, considering he was a two-time All-State player who put up monster numbers during his junior and senior seasons. In his final two years at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., Wilson amassed 6,296 yards passing and scored 74 touchdowns through the air. 

Unfortunately, his eye-popping numbers only took him so far. Big-time collegiate programs were concerned about his height and multi-sport commitment issues at the next level. This, in turn, left only a few options on the table when it came down to selecting a school on national signing day.

Only Duke and North Carolina State offered Wilson a scholarship. He verbally committed to play football and baseball at North Carolina State on July 23, 2006. He chose N.C. State because head coach Chuck Amato allowed him to participate equally in both sports. 

Wilson was never given the opportunity to play under Amato. He was fired after the Wolfpack finished the 2006 season with a 3-9 record. Tom O’Brien was named the new head coach just months later, and he went onto coach North Carolina State until the end of the 2012 season.

As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Wilson flourished in O’Brien’s West Coast offense. The 5’11” signal-caller took care of the ball and led the team to a bowl game against Rutgers. Before exiting the PapaJohns.com Bowl with a knee sprain, he scored one touchdown and threw for 186 yards.

North Carolina State ended up losing that game due to poor quarterback play in the second half. Wilson’s impressive stat line in his first year as a starter helped him easily secure the starting job heading into his second year.

Russell Wilson's statistics from his freshman year (Sports-Reference.com).

Wilson completely transformed his game in his second season. He became a more accurate passer, became the leader in the locker room and set one very impressive NCAA record.

He became the first player in collegiate football history to throw 379 consecutive passes without throwing an interception. Yet, his outstanding play wasn’t good enough to help the Wolfpack return to a bowl game for the second consecutive season.

However, Wilson’s junior season helped put North Carolina State’s football program back on the map. The team finished as the 25th-best team in college football with a 9-4 record and a win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The third-year quarterback led the ACC in passing yards while scoring 37 total touchdowns in 13 games. O’Brien was looking forward to having Wilson back under center in 2011, but the multi-sport athlete had baseball on his mind when he was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Colorado Rockies. 

As a collegiate baseball player, Wilson had a .279 batting average, he hit five home runs, stole 17 bases and knocked in 30 runs. With numbers like that, his decision to skip his senior season was a bit curious. Nonetheless, he joined the Class A Tri-City Dust Devils during the spring and hit .230 while batting in 11 runs.

After his short stint in the Northwest league, he joined the Asheville Tourists during the summer months of 2011. Wilson didn’t perform well at all. He hit three home runs and batted a measly .228. His underwhelming achievements during his short tour of duty in the minor leagues forced him to reconsider his future for the second time.

On June 27, 2011, Wilson announced that he would use his final year of college football eligibility and enroll at the University of Wisconsin. Committing to play for head coach Bret Bielema was a no-brainer.

With the addition of Wilson, some hyped the Badgers as preseason national championship favorites. The senior quarterback wasn’t able to secure a national championship in 2011, but he did help Wisconsin win a Big Ten conference championship. Not to mention, the team finished 11-3 and appeared in the Rose Bowl, losing to Oregon Ducks 45-38. 

His 33 touchdown passes were the second most in Big Ten history, and his passing efficiency rating of 191.8 set an NCAA record for the best mark ever. Furthermore, Wilson was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and he finished ninth in the voting of the Heisman Trophy.  

The successful end to his college career had NFL scouts buzzing. Front-office executives loved Wilson’s arm strength, accuracy and knowledge of the game. But they hated his height. If he would have been three inches taller, he would have easily been a first-round pick.

Teams were concerned that Wilson would have a tough time finding throwing lanes in the pocket. His naysayers didn’t get him down. The future NFL star continued to hone his craft and outwork the competition.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, he mastered the 3-cone drill in 6.97 seconds and his 20-yard shuttle time was outstanding at 4.09 seconds. No quarterback outperformed Wilson in those three drills.

His exceptional performance had his stock on the rise, yet scouts still had the blinders on when it came to his height. It’s hard to blame them. Quarterbacks under 6’0” haven’t had the same type of success as tall quarterbacks. Players like Doug Flutie and Drew Brees have been nothing more than exceptions to the rule in year's past. 

Wilson knew he would face an uphill battle to become a starter in the NFL. In fact, his whole football career leading up to the draft was an uphill battle. Still, the only thing Wilson needed and wanted was a shot to prove himself.

He got that shot when Seattle selected him with the 75th pick in the 2012 NFL draft. When head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider first met Wilson, they both liked what they saw. According to Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Schneider was so hot for Wilson that he wanted to select him in the second round. 

Schneider's fondness for the rookie quarterback helped put Wilson in contention for the starting quarterback job. Carroll and Schneider decided that an open quarterback competition was the right thing to do, even if Matt Flynn had just signed a three-year, $26 million deal.

Wilson’s rise to the top of the depth chart didn’t take long during training camp. After every preseason game, he inched closer and closer. Then, on Aug. 26, 2012, Carroll bucked conventional wisdom and named the rookie quarterback the Week 1 starter.

Here’s what Carroll told ESPN after he made the announcement: 

He is so prepared. He doesn't seem like a first-year player. He seems like he's been around. He gets it, he understands and he is a tremendous leader in that way.

He doesn't do anything but the right thing in all of his work and his preparation and his competitiveness has been demonstrated again. He expects to be good and he expects to be successful and he expects to make plays.

Carroll was right. Wilson was so prepared. He didn’t act like a first-year player. Once he hit his groove midway through the season, the Seahawks were unstoppable. Over the course of the final eight games, Seattle had the second-best offense in the NFL, and Wilson had thrown 16 touchdown passes to two interceptions.

Additionally, the team closed out the season with five straight victories. Wilson’s magical season wasn’t confined to the regular season; he picked up right where he left off in the playoffs.

Russell Wilson's statistics from his rookie season (Pro-Football-Reference.com).

After falling behind to the Washington Redskins 14-0, Wilson played turnover-free football and led five scoring drives while notching the fifth game-winning drive of his career. Seattle went on to win 24-14 over Robert Griffin III and Washington. 

The Seahawks couldn't repeat in the next game against the Atlanta Falcons. Seattle fell behind for the second week in a row, and Atlanta capitalized on its mistakes, winning 30-28. 

Wilson solidified himself as one of the top talents in the NFL at any position with his accomplishments on the field in 2012. He’s not OK with being good enough; he wants to be the best. The way he conducts himself and leads the team makes that blatantly obvious.

Sure, his rise to the top was remarkable, but he has spent his entire football career turning nonbelievers into believers. Seahawks fans should be grateful. Wilson is only 24 years of age, and he’s only going to get better. 

Just ask Coach Carroll, per the team's website:

I think he’s going to really do well this year. He’s going to bust out and will benefit tremendously from his first year. It may be hard to imagine he’s going to get any better, but I think he’s going to get a lot better, being he was a first year starter, first time in the league.

If Wilson ends up being a lot better in 2013, the rest of the NFL should take cover. He will go from a top talent to the most talented player in the league.

Consider yourself warned.

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