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Friday, December 7, 2012
Seahawks lucky to have Wilson

By Adam Schefter
ESPN.com

When he first said it, people were surprised. But Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spoke his mind and defended his quarterback.

Sherman said last week that he believes Seattle's Russell Wilson is better than fellow rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Seattle nearly lost out on Wilson last April.

At least three teams, and quite possibly more, planned to draft Wisconsin's Wilson shortly after the Seahawks selected him with the 75th overall pick in the third round of April's draft, according to league sources.

The Philadelphia Eagles intended to draft Wilson 13 slots after Seattle's pick, at No. 88 overall, to back up Michael Vick but wound up drafting Arizona quarterback Nick Foles instead.

The Indianapolis Colts planned to pick Wilson with the 92nd overall selection in the third round to back up Luck before taking Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Russell Wilson
If the Seahawks hadn't drafted Russell Wilson when they did, he might be starting for the Eagles right now.

And even the Washington Redskins would have grabbed Wilson with the 102nd overall pick in the fourth round to back up Griffin, but when he was gone, they picked Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Think about Wilson backing up Vick, Luck or Griffin -- it's hard to imagine how that would have changed those teams' quarterback situations as well as Seattle's. Philadelphia could have turned to a sure-fire quarterback of the future to replace Vick. Seattle would have had to lean on Matt Flynn. And who knows whether the Seahawks would be in the position they are today, closing in on a wild-card spot while preparing to host Arizona on Sunday.

Some wondered why Seattle drafted Wilson as high as it did. But he never would have been there for the Seahawks' next pick, the 106th overall selection, in the fourth round. And how fortunate are the Seahawks?

Wilson has thrown a game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime three times this season, the most by a rookie since at least the 1970 merger. For a handful of teams, Wilson is the quarterback who got away. For one team, Wilson is a steal and a savior.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Heisman scouting report: College football's finest will be on display Saturday night in New York, but they have been on display for NFL talent evaluators throughout the fall.

Some are brighter prospects than others. But NFL front offices already have written up their reports on the players who have been widely reported on this season.

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel might win the Heisman Trophy, but NFL scouts aren't sure what to make of him.

These are the thoughts of NFL evaluators on the three players gathered in New York for this weekend's Heisman Trophy ceremony:

• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel: One NFL talent evaluator compared Manziel to former Duke standout Bobby Hurley, saying he's the best point guard in America, able to dish it off or take the ball to the hoop himself with his rare athletic instincts. Alabama coach Nick Saban once compared Manziel to Doug Flutie, though NFL scouts do not believe the Texas A&M quarterback has the same type of arm strength. One scout said Manziel, who's listed as 6-1, is more like Fran Tarkenton, able to scramble or throw the ball pretty accurately. NFL scouts are uneasy about his Manziel's size. They also are uncertain how high he'll wind up going when he turns pro or what type of quarterback he'll be, given that he's only a redshirt freshman. But even NFL evaluators are enamored with watching Manziel work his magic.

• Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o: NFL scouts love his will, passion, desire and intangibles. They are curious how Te'o, who dropped about 15 pounds before his senior year, had no interceptions entering this season but has seven this season. They believe he's very good, just not elite. But they say if former Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly was good enough to go ninth overall in last April's draft, then Te'o should be good enough to be selected somewhere between Nos. 10 and 15, especially considering that he is a three-down linebacker.

• Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein: What's most impressive to NFL scouts is how Klein excelled with so little talent surrounding him. Yet the NFL is torn over what to make of Klein, who has a funky motion and great intangibles but is hardly a classic pocket passer. One evaluator said Klein was a cross between former Jaguars first-round pick Matt Jones and former Broncos first-round pick Tim Tebow, each of whom has struggled to find a home at the NFL level. Klein has Jones' long-stride speed and Tebow's unimpeachable character, but his skill set has not wowed NFL scouts even if his determination has. Klein is viewed as a late-round pick.

2. Playoff paradise: Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and current Colts quarterback Luck are on a collision course, perhaps to meet in Denver in January. There still are four weekends worth of games to go, but the playoff picture, especially in the AFC, already has come into focus. ESPN.com has a feature that projects the potential playoff matchups -- the Playoff Machine -- and if the season were to end today, the AFC wild-card games would be a football fan's and TV network's dream.

In one matchup, Manning and the Broncos would host Luck and the Colts. In the other, John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens would get to host Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers again. If the league had the power to do it, it couldn't handpick two better matchups. Even with so much season left, it's not difficult to see how the AFC playoff race will shake out. And the prospect of Manning and Luck squaring off in the first round is as real as it is enticing.

Jake Long
Jake Long might never wear a Dolphins uniform again.

3. Long gone? Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jake Long is out for the year with a torn triceps, and the real question is whether he'll return to the Miami Dolphins. For the second straight year, a former No. 1 overall pick is going to be so pricey for the franchise tag that he could wind up leaving the team. Last year, it was former Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, and this year it could be Long.

Long's salary-cap number this season is higher than the $9.5 million to $10 million projected franchise number for offensive linemen, so the Dolphins would have to franchise him at 120 percent of this year's salary-cap number, which is $12.8 million. Thus, his franchise tag this offseason would be a whopping $15,365,952, according to league sources. Because the number is so high, some around the league believe that the Dolphins cannot afford to tag Long and that he will be able to test the free-agent market, just as Williams did last season.

Houston lost Williams to the Buffalo Bills, and it's one reason the Dolphins have attempted, unsuccessfully, to sign Long before he can hit the market and leave Miami. They recognize that their best chance to keep him might be to sign him now. But so far, the two sides haven't gotten close to a deal, which means it's just about fourth-and-Long in Miami.

4. Historic paces: As the regular season enters its last quarter, some impressive numbers are within reach. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has 1,428 receiving yards through 12 games -- what "Madden" cover curse? If he maintains his 119-yard average through the next four games, he would wind up with 1,904 yards, surpassing the season receiving record of 1,848 set by Jerry Rice in 1995.

Johnson needs to average 105 yards against Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta and Chicago to tie Rice's record. In his past five games, Johnson's lowest output has been 129 receiving yards. Plus, Detroit wide receivers Titus Young and Ryan Broyles were placed on injured reserve this week, meaning Johnson is assured of getting more than his fair share of targets.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson needs to average 138.5 rushing yards against Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and Green Bay to reach the 2,000-yard mark this season. He has 1,446 rushing yards so far. Over his past six games, Peterson has averaged 157.8 yards per game. Johnson and Peterson are having their usual Offensive Player of the Year-caliber seasons, even if their teams are not consistently winning.

5. Sweet Week 15: Few weekends provide the drama and excitement of an NFL playoff weekend. But the Week 15 matchups for Sunday, Dec. 16, are compelling enough to get people to halt their Christmas shopping. Check out this slate of games:

Giants at Falcons in a rematch of last season's playoff game; Broncos at Ravens in what could be Ray Lewis' first game back since suffering a torn triceps; Packers at Bears in a game that could decide the NFC North; Colts at Texans as Houston gets its first look at Andrew Luck; Buccaneers at Saints in a game with two teams trying to keep alive their playoff chances; Steelers at Cowboys in a rematch of some of the great Super Bowls; and 49ers at Patriots in what could be a potential Super Bowl preview. There will be good games this weekend. But for next weekend, get the popcorn ready.

Bruce Arians and Andrew Luck
Interim head coach Bruce Arians has the Colts on the brink of a playoff berth.

6. Good year to share: Some coaches have turned in great performances this season. New England's Bill Belichick has helped lead the Patriots to their ninth AFC East title in the past 10 seasons. Houston's Gary Kubiak has been a model of consistency on a team that had a surprisingly high amount of turnover. Denver's John Fox has won the AFC West for a second straight season. Atlanta's Mike Smith has the Falcons close to locking up home-field advantage in the NFC.

Any one of these coaches is deserving of NFL Coach of the Year honors. But there isn't a more deserving candidate than Indianapolis' interim head coach, Bruce Arians, who took over from Chuck Pagano and has the Colts in position to capture one of the AFC's wild cards. Not long ago, SI.com's Peter King suggested that Arians and Pagano should be the NFL's Co-Coaches of the Year. There could not be an honor more fitting than to see the two men who have shared so much this season share the NFL's Coach of the Year award. All for it.

7. Lost in the desert: The Arizona Cardinals are wasting the career of one of the game's great players and ambassadors, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Each game that passes is one fewer that he gets to produce the type of statistics that could have rivaled just about any receiver in history. Each season that passes is one fewer that he gets to compete for the type of championship he nearly won when Arizona last had a quality quarterback.

For Fitzgerald to have to play with the quarterbacks the Cardinals have had since Kurt Warner retired is unfair. Fitzgerald has been reduced to a worthless weapon. He has 650 receiving yards this season, fewer than the likes of Jeremy Kerley, Donnie Avery and Malcom Floyd. Fitzgerald should be in the top five in the league. Instead, he's barely in the top 40.

Fitzgerald had one catch last Sunday against the Jets on a day when the Cardinals went 0-for-15 on third-down conversions and gained only 6 yards in the third quarter. One Arizona columnist recently suggested the Cardinals should look to deal Fitzgerald, 29, for enough pieces to help put this franchise back together. Not only would it help the Cardinals, it would be a favor to Fitzgerald, who has done everything he could for a franchise that is wasting the career of one of the game's great players. And yet Fitzgerald never would complain -- that's not him.

8. Chargers' streak fizzling: The San Diego Chargers' next loss this season will end a franchise-record streak of eight seasons without a losing record. It's amazing that one franchise can have gone that long without a losing season and also without a season that resulted in a championship.

To avoid their first losing season in nearly a decade, the Chargers will have to win at Pittsburgh, which also has gone eight straight seasons without a losing record, the NFL's second-longest active streak (the Patriots entered 2012 with an 11-season streak). But here's where San Diego could be in trouble. The Steelers have a 14-0 regular-season record against the Chargers in Pittsburgh.

Dennis Allen
Dennis Allen took over a team in turmoil when he became the Raiders' head coach.

9. Raiders need time: Oakland Raiders officials and coaches already are coming under increasing pressure for their struggling season. But people are forgetting what a mess general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen inherited. Few organizations ever have been in the state of disrepair that Oakland was in after last season. Its payroll was bloated beyond belief, draft picks had been traded to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer, and the personnel was not particularly good.

A sign of how bad it was is best evident in Oakland's new personnel. McKenzie and Allen have 27 new players on the roster, 11 of whom have started. And of the 27 arrivals, 11 players -- OL Tony Bergstrom, DT Christo Bilukidi, LB Kaelin Burnett, LB Miles Burris, DE Jack Crawford, WR Juron Criner, WR Rod Streater, C/G Alex Parsons, CB Brandian Ross, RB Jeremy Stewart and LB Carl Ihenacho -- have made their NFL debuts this season. It's a sign of how much work needs to be done, how much time it will take and how much patience Raiders fans need to have for men who know what they are doing but need time to make changes.

10. Goodell's power checked, balanced: It's hard to imagine this bounty saga started nine months ago and does not appear close to being over. During that time, the NFLPA repeatedly was questioned for the disciplinary powers it granted to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the last CBA negotiations. But Goodell's powers do have checks and balances, as we have seen.

The players involved in the bounty case still have not served any suspensions or lost any salaries. The newly created appeals panel overturned Goodell's initial suspensions, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is running a fresh and thorough review of the matter, complete with eyewitness testimony and cross-examination.

And it's not just the bounty case. Recently, the one-game suspension that the NFL slapped on Ravens safety Ed Reed for a controversial hit was overturned by an independent hearing officer. Although Goodell's disciplinary authority might not be perfect, it's also not as absolute as many thought.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Houston at New England -- Would anyone be surprised if these two teams met in the AFC Championship Game?

Player of the week: Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings -- With Jordy Nelson hard-pressed to play, the Packers need Jennings back.

Upset of the week: Minnesota over Chicago -- The Vikings have a chance to keep alive their slim playoff hopes with a win.