Seattle's risks in 2012 draft paid off

WHILE THE WORLD listened to draft experts, they listened to Bob Marley. The reggae music thumped peacefully through the Seattle Seahawks' draft room on the last week of April 2012, as their brain trust pondered their picks. It's probably better that the volume on the television sets was turned down for those three days. Listening to all the critiques would've destroyed the vibe.

And when their work was finally over, the Seahawks' brass celebrated. Food was eaten, drinks were consumed, and middle-aged men hugged each other. John Idzik, then a vice president for the Seahawks, said the scene felt like a postgame locker room after a big victory.

It was 2012, the Seahawks were coming off a 7-9 season, and there were no indications in the real word that an enormous power shift was about to take place in the NFL. But the Seahawks' front office sensed they were onto something big in the hours after the draft.

"Sometimes, just like a game, you get a flow in the draft and you just sense that, man, this thing really went our way," Idzik says. "We got the guys that we targeted and it just felt right for us, you know?"

The pundits didn't agree, almost universally panning a draft that featured a 5-foot-10 quarterback, a smallish and ailing linebacker from -- of all places -- Utah State, and a first-round selection that had been arrested just a day after his pro day.

While the NFL was buzzing about Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III that spring, Seattle's class garnered draft grades that ranged from C's to D's. Bleacher Report wrote, "Pete Carroll is proving why he didn't make it in the NFL the first time."

At one point during Day 2 of the Seahawks' draft, upon hearing that they picked Utah State's Bobby Wagner in the second round, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said, "Seattle baffles me. I don't get it."

Three years later, the class has become the cornerstone for a franchise on the verge of back-to-back Super Bowl championships. It was full of gambles, from using a third-round pick on quarterback Russell Wilson just after they'd grabbed Matt Flynn in free agency to converting J.R. Sweezy from defense to offense. It was a time full of exhaustive research, intense secrecy and unwavering belief from Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

Here are some of the stories behind that draft.

Russell Wilson, QB

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema insists this is true.

It is the winter of 2012, and Bielema, Wisconsin's coach at the time, is interviewing for the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. He is a day and a half into his meetings, and is mapping out his plans with the Dolphins' brass. He promises them a Super Bowl ring within five years if they pick Wilson, his quarterback at Wisconsin, in the upcoming draft.

The idea of selecting a 5-10 quarterback in the second round, which is where Bielema thinks they need to, does not go over well. They think he's crazy.

"One hundred percent," Bielema says.

"They all looked at me like, 'You can't say that. That's the difference between college and pro. He's undersized. He can't throw.' I was like, 'OK, all right,' and I honestly, that day, kind of pulled myself out of it."

Bielema says he couldn't work for people he wasn't on the same page with. (Former Miami GM Jeff Ireland, now a scout with New Orleans, was not made available through the Saints for this article.)

The Dolphins wound up picking Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who's 6-4, with the No. 8 overall pick. Five quarterbacks were drafted before Wilson.

Schneider visited Wilson four times during his senior season, but was very low-key. He didn't want to tip his hand. While most scouts wanted the measurables, Bielema says Schneider asked different questions. What did he do best in the locker room? What kind of a leader was he in practice?

Bielema says Schneider texted him the morning the second round started and asked if there were any teams sniffing around Wilson. That night, when the Seahawks drafted him in the third round, Bielema was settling in for dinner with his wife at a country club in Madison, Wisconsin. When he heard the news, he yelled out something that he says "you get bleeped for."

Everyone in the room stared at him. Just like in Miami.

J.R. Sweezy, OG

The spring of 2012 was not exactly bustling with activity for Sweezy. The senior defensive lineman from NC State had very few visits lined up.

One day, Seattle assistant Tom Cable called. He was coming to North Carolina for a private workout. Cable asked him to get into his offensive line stance. Sweezy looked at him and thought, "Uhh, how?" Seattle was one of just two teams -- Baltimore was the other -- that saw Sweezy as a good candidate to convert to the offensive line.

So Cable spent roughly 35 minutes with him, running drills that were unknown to a defensive player. Sweezy was asked to run while juggling a couple of football and answering questions at the same time. Cable was impressed, especially when Sweezy said he'd do anything to get into the NFL.

"Sweezy was a guess," Carroll says, "kind of a real shot in the dark. Sweezy was John's thing and Tom Cable's thing. They decided we could transition him and that he had a chance to be a special offensive lineman."

On the last day of the draft, Seattle picked Sweezy in the seventh round. He went on to start as a rookie and has been a force on the offensive line ever since.

"I have no idea [what the Seahawks saw]," Sweezy says. "I'm just glad they saw it."

Bruce Irvin, LB

Schneider, for his part, leaves every draft feeling positive. He spends far too much time on it not to be hopeful. The GM avoids most forms of media -- before, during and after the draft.

"We try to drown out the noise," Schneider says. "We listen to reggae music. We don't listen to whether they like our picks or don't like our picks. We just kind of keep plowing through it."

So it's probably a good thing that Schneider wasn't tuned in to the TV coverage at the start of the 2012 draft, when his team selected Bruce Irvin with the No. 15 overall pick.

A rundown of the pre-draft criticisms of Irvin:

He was arrested the day after his pro day. He carried much baggage, from dropping out of high school to temporarily being homeless. He was to turn 25 years old during his rookie season, which is generally prime age for NFL players, and Irvin was just getting started. He wasn't an every-down player and would be merely a situational pass rusher.

Even Irvin didn't think he'd be drafted so early. He was playing basketball with his cousins in his mom's yard in Atlanta when he heard his phone vibrate against the hood of a car. The area code said 425, and Irvin didn't recognize it.

The person on the other end of the line -- Irvin isn't even sure who it was -- said, "Bruce, this is the Seattle Seahawks. We're about to take you with the next pick." He went inside, told his family, and the house exploded in cheers.

Most analysts tabbed him as a second-day pick, and called the move a massive reach.

"Bruce was a special guy," Carroll says. "I knew him from junior college. I tried to get him to come to USC, so I knew him kind of better than the other guys did. I held him in really high regard for his athleticism. I saw him as a strong safety when I first saw him."

Irvin had eight sacks as a rookie and has evolved into a solid starter on the most dominating defense in the NFL.

Bobby Wagner, LB

Wagner was another player who was considered a reach in the second round. Only 6-0 and 240 pounds, he was considered small for a middle linebacker. He missed the combine because of pneumonia. He was considered a raw prospect because he didn't play football until his junior year of high school.

"Bobby is very driven to show people," says Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, who coached Wagner at Utah State. "If you tell him he can't, he's going to show you he can."

Wagner was convinced he wouldn't be drafted by Seattle because his visit with the team in the weeks before the draft went so terribly. Medical tests revealed he had issues with his kidneys, and the Seahawks wanted him to stay overnight for more tests. Wagner also thought his potential position coach, Ken Norton Jr., didn't like him.

Three years later, Wagner is considered the heartbeat of Seattle's defense. When he was out earlier this season with a torn ligament in his foot, the Seahawks slumped to 6-4. They haven't lost since he returned to the lineup eight games ago. He's had such an impact that he made the Pro Bowl despite missing five games.

Wagner says he went from celebrating his draft pick to "being pissed off" when he heard what the analysts said about him.

"I heard everything they were saying," he says. "I heard I wasn't a good linebacker, I was too small and all that other stuff. But we're in a position to possibly win two Super Bowl championships. For a 2012 draft class they thought was nothing, we impacted this team a lot.

"I knew the ability I had to affect this league."

THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES had done their research that spring. They'd talked to agents and coaches to gauge how interested the rest of the league was in Russell Wilson, and they believed they could nab him in the third round.

The Eagles coveted Wilson. Joe Banner, a former Eagles exec, says then-coach Andy Reid and vice president Howie Roseman believed Wilson's intangibles were the best they'd ever seen in any player. Because Schneider was covert in his actions, they had no clue the Seahawks were interested in him.

And when the Seahawks snatched away Wilson just one pick before they were going to take him, Philadelphia's draft room went silent.

"The air was kind of sucked out of the room," Banner says.

The Eagles eventually picked Nick Foles. Banner wonders how the Eagles' fortunes might've changed if Wilson was still on the board. Would Reid still be coaching in Philly? Would Seattle be here in Phoenix, playing for another Super Bowl ring?

He's convinced that if Wilson had played for Chip Kelly, that the Eagles' offense would be almost impossible to stop. But you can't second-guess and agonize over what-ifs with the draft. It will drive you crazy, he says.

So will turning up a television during draft week.

ESPN Insider senior editor Chris Sprow contributed to this story.