Wrong on Wilson? Hey, I liked Ryan Leaf

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
3:00
PM ET
I once thought Ryan Leaf had the makings to become a top NFL quarterback and that the gap between Leaf and Peyton Manning wasn't all that significant.

"Maturing stock adds to Leaf's net worth" was the headline for a Sporting News piece I wrote in April 1998, a month before I started covering the NFL.

Wilson
Lesson learned.

That experience 15 years ago comes to mind every time I'm tempted to pass judgment on an NFL team's freshly minted draft class. The truth is, none of us knows for sure how these things will turn out.

Russell Wilson is qualifying as another cautionary tale. He and the Seattle Seahawks became irresistible targets on draft day last year. It seemed safe to write off Wilson because he stood only 5-foot-10 and so few quarterbacks of that stature had succeeded in the NFL. But after one season, Wilson has already succeeded, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record for touchdown passes (26) while posting an 11-5 record.

As you might imagine, some of the initial post-draft reactions were a bit off-target. Do not worry, mistaken draft analysts. You've got company:
  • Tony Pauline, SI.com: "The Seahawks made another questionable decision, tabbing Wilson in the third frame. Wilson is destined to sit behind newly-signed Matt Flynn and will struggle to see the field at any point over the next three years."
  • Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports: "The Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Wilson even though the history of QBs under 6-foot is poor, to say the least. You don't spend a third-round pick on a guy who'll be lucky to be Seneca Wallace. You also don't do that after signing Matt Flynn as a free agent. The Seahawks are no closer to solving the QB situation now than they were before 2011."
  • Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: "Why does Seattle take him? They paid Matt Flynn and have two others. Strange pick."
  • Joseph Fell, Cold Hard Football Facts: "Just as soon as Seahawks fans began to shell out their hard-earned money for jerseys with Flynn’s name on the back, Carroll once again demonstrated his flair for the dramatic by announcing that Wilson would be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback this fall. This experiment will prove a disaster. … Starting Wilson will most likely lead to another wasted season, and this move may be the one that leads owner Paul Allen to fire Carroll."
  • Wes Bunting, National Football Post: "Wilson is a plus athlete who can spin the football and gives you a nice run/pass threat. However he's undersized, is going to struggle to consistently make plays from the pocket and is still learning how to work his way through defenses. He is worth a pick late, but I don't see the guy as a potential starter in the NFL. Reserve only."
  • Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: "Russell Wilson is a great test case for shorter QBs, because he has everything else, but did they need him in the third round after grabbing Matt Flynn to come in and likely start?"

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