RENTON, Wash. (AP) Within their inner circle, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and staff quietly speculated that their 2012 draft class would be special, despite the critics' derision.
Outsiders were dismissive of linebacker Bobby Wagner, a former two-star recruit from tiny Utah State; undersized quarterback Russell Wilson, who had to transfer from North Carolina State to start as a senior; and Bruce Irvin, a high school dropout who had bounced around junior colleges before landing at West Virginia.
''In small circles, behind closed doors, we talked about that this could be the one. This could be the draft class that could really make the difference,'' Carroll said.
Sometimes that group of draftees - six of whom are on the Seattle active roster - reminisce about the failing grades their class received. The players have Super Bowl rings and are about to play in their second straight NFC championship game on Sunday when they host Green Bay.
Irvin, the first-round pick, was a stunner no one expected to go that early and many believed would never develop into an every-down player. Critics said second-round selection Wagner never faced elite competition in college.
And Wilson, Seattle's much disputed third-round pick ... well, listing all the criticism that pick received would take too long.
''We look at that type of stuff. We look at that class, we've got seven, eight guys that are key contributors right now,'' Irvin said. ''I don't know man, I don't know who grades that type of stuff. We're just going to continue to prove everybody wrong.''
Great drafts have anchored championship teams in the past. Arguably the best draft class was the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers with Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster, all Hall of Famers. The Cowboys took Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes and Roger Staubach in the 1964 draft. More recently, Baltimore's selection of Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in 1996 proved invaluable to its first title.
Seattle's roster has been built a variety of ways. First-round gems, like safety Earl Thomas and left tackle Russell Okung, both taken in 2010, are joined by late-round steals including safety Kam Chancellor, picked in the fifth round the same year. A year later linebacker K.J. Wright was a fourth-round pick, followed by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth and starting cornerback Byron Maxwell in the sixth.
But no group of additions to Seattle's roster has matched the importance of the 2012 draft.
''Everyone told us we weren't going to be any good. We've heard that a lot,'' Wilson said. ''No matter what anybody tells you, you have to be a self-motivator. That's what we have in the 2012 class of the Seattle Seahawks. They're all self-motivators. We all believe in each other, we all believe in ourselves, and we've all kind of just pushed each other. When we first got here, I know we had a 2012 meeting and kind of told the guys I want to be the best class there's ever been here. That's kind of been our mindset.''
The majority of notoriety from the 2012 class has gone to Wilson and Wagner. Wilson has started every game in his three seasons and is in line for a massive payday, while Wagner has become an elite inside linebacker and was first-team All-Pro this season despite missing five games.
But the depth found in that class is what sets them apart. Irvin is Seattle's starting strongside linebacker, proving he was more than just a pass rusher. Fourth-round pick Robert Turbin is the backup to Marshawn Lynch. Sixth-round pick Jeremy Lane has been Seattle's nickel cornerback when healthy.
And the real late-round steal of the group? Guard J.R. Sweezy, a defensive tackle in college that has developed into one of Seattle's most consistent offensive linemen.
''We've always remembered the way they talked about us when we got drafted and what not,'' Sweezy said. ''We kind of knew what we were going to do. We kept our heads down and got to work. Now we're seeing the product of all of that and it's fun to be part of it.''
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