Commentary

Passing on Wilson proved fateful

QB-needy Bills, Jaguars and Chiefs glossed over solution in 2012 draft

Originally Published: January 4, 2013
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Seattle is going through playoff preparations, while Buffalo, Jacksonville and Kansas City are going through résumés in part because of one simple third-round draft pick.

With the 69th pick in last April's draft, Buffalo selected NC State wide receiver T.J. Graham.

With the very next pick, the Jaguars selected California punter Bryan Anger.

Four picks later, Kansas City selected Oklahoma tackle Donald Stephenson.

And with the very next pick, the 75th overall selection, Seattle selected Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.

Now Wilson is leading Seattle into the wild-card round against the Redskins after a season in which he challenged Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Washington's Robert Griffin III for the offensive rookie of the year. And Buffalo, Jacksonville and Kansas City are looking for either new head coaches or new general managers.

There are so many hard-to-grasp elements about the six-pick sequence that help define those teams' 2012 seasons.

Given the quarterback questions they had not just now but then, how could Buffalo, Jacksonville and Kansas City each pass on a quarterback who would have been a top-10 pick if he were two inches taller?

And more important, how could Seattle simply sit there knowing it wanted Wilson, but that three teams picking in front of it each had such a need at the position?

It's easy to ask these questions now, almost nine months later, but it was not hard to ask them then, either. Maybe Graham, Anger and Stephenson will turn out to be Pro Bowl players. Maybe Graham will give Buffalo more big plays, Anger will keep winning the field-position battle for Jacksonville, and Stephenson can continue to open holes and protect quarterbacks. But in this league, quarterbacks are currency. And now, thanks to their vision and other teams' lack of it, the Seahawks are loaded.

Seattle lucked out, just as it did in the Monday night game against Green Bay that helped propel these Seahawks into the playoffs. Those other teams made the wrong call for them and the right call for Seattle. Wilson fell to Seattle, and the Seahawks didn't waste any time turning in the pick. Wilson was their man.

And it is just one more affirmation of what we've known all along but get reminded of periodically. When the draft rolls around this April, keep in mind how significant each pick can be. Not to overstate it, but we saw it last April as we will see it again in future Aprils. One pick can make franchises or cost jobs.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
AP Photo/Damian Strohmeyer Ray Lewis is retiring. Which key players will be following him out the door in Baltimore?

Bracing for change: Ray Lewis' decision to retire is just the start of the changes that are about to take place in Baltimore. The Ravens now are scheduled to be only $5 million over next season's salary cap, but that doesn't include any deal with free-agent-to-be quarterback Joe Flacco. If the Ravens have to use the quarterback franchise tag on Flacco for the projected $14.6 million, that would put them nearly $20 million over the salary cap.

Lewis' retirement will save Baltimore $3.8 million against the cap. Cutting wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones would free up an additional $9 million. But then the Ravens still have to deal with their unsigned players such as safety Ed Reed, cornerback Cary Williams and linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. So not everyone can stay.

Sunday marks what is expected to be the final home game for Lewis, the greatest defensive player many ever saw play. But those are just the start of the changes that are coming to Baltimore. The Ravens are going to lose some more good football players.

Big stage for rookie QBs: The story of this season and the postseason is the sudden ascension of rookie quarterbacks. This will mark the first time in NFL history that three rookie quarterbacks will start a postseason NFL game in the same season.

But it's not just rookies -- it's all young quarterbacks. Add Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick to Luck, Griffin III and Wilson, and six of the 12 starting quarterbacks are in either their first or second seasons. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the most first- and second-year starting quarterbacks in a single postseason since the merger. The last time this many young quarterbacks were involved in the postseason was in 2000, when Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Aaron Brooks and Shaun King helped lead their teams to the playoffs.

Don't forget the RBs: So much deserved attention has been heaped on the rookie quarterbacks that the rookie running backs have been overshadowed. Yet Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL this season in rushing with 1,613 yards, the third-most rushing yards by a rookie in NFL history. Also, Colts rookie running back Vick Ballard led Indianapolis in rushing with 814 yards. And the Redskins and Colts became the first two teams to reach the playoffs with rookies leading them in rushing and passing yards since the 1943 Giants. Pretty impressive.

Oddsmaker's view: As the postseason dance gets under way, Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager at bovada.lv, has established odds for each of the 12 playoff teams to win the Super Bowl. Not surprisingly, the Denver Broncos, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, are the favorite at 11-4, followed by the Patriots at 4-1, the 49ers at 6-1, the Falcons at 7-1, the Packers at 8-1 and the Seahawks at 11-1.

Earlier this season, Bradley established the Texans as the favorite to win the Super Bowl, but right now, Houston's odds have fallen off to 15-1. Bradley doesn't put much credence in the other playoff teams, either. He lists the Redskins at 18-1, the Ravens at 22-1, the Vikings at 40-1, and the Bengals and Colts at 45-1.

Passing is a must: Here's what the 12-team postseason playing field doesn't have to worry about: mounting a strong rushing attack or boasting a 1,000-yard rusher. Each of the past four Super Bowl champions has not had a 1,000-yard rusher that season, and most have not had a particularly high rushing ranking.

Last season's world-champion Giants had the league's 32nd-ranked rushing attack, the 2010 world-champion Packers ranked 24th in rushing, the 2009 world-champion Saints ranked sixth in rushing, and the 2008 world-champion Steelers ranked 23rd in rushing.

Meanwhile, each of the past three Super Bowl champions has had a top-five passing offense. Each team in this postseason dance knows what it has to do to win. It has to be able to throw the football.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanThe Vikings have leaned on Adrian Peterson all season. How much does he have left?

Running on fumes? Even with the emphasis on passing, there can be no denying the importance in Minnesota of running. What Adrian Peterson has done this season is one of the great physical feats in football history. This season, Peterson has rushed for 409 yards against the Packers, tied for the fourth-most ever by any player against any team in a single season.

But there is concern in the Minnesota organization about how beat up Peterson now is, and how he will be able to bounce back against the Packers after 35 carries and only six days of rest. It's not going to be easy, the Vikings know. Then again, Peterson has answered any physical questions about him this season in spades, and we've learned never to doubt him.

Peterson gets one more crack at the Packers -- or they at him -- in a season when the Vikings running back has played well enough to, at the very least, share the NFL's MVP award with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Shifting coaching trend: This year's postseason field validates the resurgence of the experienced, established, elite NFL head coaches. Take a look at the head coaches who led their teams to this postseason dance: New England's Bill Belichick, Denver's John Fox, Houston's Gary Kubiak, Baltimore's John Harbaugh, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Atlanta's Mike Smith, Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh, Washington's Mike Shanahan and Seattle's Pete Carroll. Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians are the outliers, but the point is the point. The priciest high-profile head coaches are heavily in this postseason's mix.

It also goes against the philosophy that some teams ascribed to a few years ago when they began to believe that younger, cheaper, more inexperienced head coaches were the wave of the future. Just think back to 2009, when Tampa Bay hired Raheem Morris, Denver Josh McDaniels, Cleveland Eric Mangini, Kansas City Todd Haley, San Francisco Mike Singletary, Indianapolis Jim Caldwell, and each team believed it had found the right man for the job.

The NFL's youth coaching movement has come to a quick halt as the more seasoned coaches have had their way this regular season and into the postseason. NFL trends usually are cyclical, and the one toward younger, cheaper, more inexperienced head coaches certainly seems to have passed.

Enemy of a state: One of the great postseason storylines won't even be televised, but there are few events that will have the intrigue of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's trip to New Orleans, site of Super Bowl XLVII. There cannot be a more disliked person in Louisiana than Goodell, who suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for a full season, general manager Mickey Loomis for half a season, assistant coach Joe Vitt for four games, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith for terms they never had to serve.

New Orleans failed to make the postseason, and many in the state blame Goodell. His return to New Orleans will be awkward and uncomfortable, but if there's one person with the disposition to face it, it would be Goodell, the son of former New York representative and senator Charles Goodell, who went against his party to criticize the United States' role in the Vietnam War.

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
AP Photo/Perry KnottsFalcons TE Tony Gonzalez has been waiting a long time to taste postseason success.

Gonzalez is due: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has labored 16 seasons and 253 regular-season games in Kansas City and Atlanta without winning a playoff game. Gonzalez is 0-5 in the postseason, and each loss feels worse than the last.

And Gonzalez's postseason drought is not football's longest. Lions kicker Jason Hanson has labored 21 seasons and 326 regular-season games in Detroit without ever winning a playoff game, though he will not get the chance to get his first postseason win this January. Hanson is 0-6 in the postseason.

No other players in the Super Bowl era have played as many regular-season games as Gonzalez and Hanson without winning a postseason game. Gonzalez and Hanson are leaders in an unenviable category. But this weekend, Gonzalez has a chance to do something he never has and which he deserves. Don't you think?

Similar look: Football fans always could count on death, taxes and different playoff teams in the NFL. But for the first time in 17 seasons, there are fewer than five "new" playoffs teams.

But go back and check: Every season from 1996 to 2011, at least five teams made the postseason after not making the playoffs in the previous year. Eight teams from the 2011 playoffs are in this postseason -- Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Bengals, Ravens, Texans, Patriots, Broncos -- so that streak is over.

But there's another compelling streak that did continue this season. For the ninth straight season, the NFL has watched at least one team go from worst to first. The Washington Redskins kept alive the NFL's worst-to-first streak by winning the NFC East.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Minnesota versus Green Bay -- What's better than postseason Saturday nights in Green Bay?

Player of the week: Ravens QB Joe Flacco -- Makes his case for a new contract.

Upset of the week: Seattle over Washington -- Not much of an upset, but the Seahawks seem to have the best chance of any road team this weekend to win.