With the benefit of hindsight being 20/20, so many members of the NFL college player evaluation (aka “scouting”) community simply have to be asking themselves:
“How did we let a 6'3", 228-pound wide receiver who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, had a measured wingspan of 6'11” (the longest EVER recorded at the NFL Combine), demonstrated the ability to effortlessly catch the ball with his hands and use his arm length to pluck errant passes out of the air, and routinely dominated his opponents in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference (SEC)… and decide it was okay to allow SEVEN different wide receivers to be selected before the guy in question, in that year’s Draft class?”
The answer to that question, of course, will reveal how and why the Seattle Seahawks were able to select (if not steal) DeKaylin Zecharius Metcalf with the 64th overall pick — the last pick in the 2nd round — of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The answer to that question will also undoubtedly serve as a teachable moment to the other 31 teams, as they bear witness to the guy who has been the best wide receiver in the NFL through the first one-third(-ish) of the 2020 NFL season.
Coming out of Ole Miss, nearly every Draft analyst agreed that DK Metcalf was an exceptionally rare physical specimen, with the musculature of a bodybuilder and the explosiveness of a track sprinter. His college highlight reel was filled with instances of him bullying opposing cornerbacks who tried to play physical with him, or leaving opposing cornerbacks in his dust if they tried to run with him.
I wrote this back in the spring of 2019, when describing Metcalf:
The glass half-full types will see the size-speed combination, ability to make ridiculous one-handed catches, and underrated versatility in using his hands to get off the line of scrimmage and/or create separation, and see flashes of Calvin Johnson.
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But, as is apt to happen in the Pre-Draft process, people around the NFL began nitpicking what should have been a no-brainer selection, to the point of outthinking themselves. They got overly worried that he’d never develop the fluidity in his routes of a DeAndre Hopkins, nor the mastery of the nuances and techniques of the position like Keenan Allen.
Most notably, they panicked about Metcalf recording admittedly terrible times of 7.38 seconds in the 3-cone drill and 4.5 seconds in the short shuttle — two tests used at the NFL Combine to determine a player’s lateral agility and ability to seamlessly leverage his speed when changing directions.
- Did those scouts account for the fact that Metcalf’s foot might’ve gotten caught a bit by the turf monster at the Combine when running the 3-cone? Probably not.
- Did those scouts go back and look up the fact that the same questions were raised about a another (but not nearly as athletically gifted) big-bodied wide receiver with a similarly physical playing style, by the name of Dez Bryant — who recorded a similar 3-cone time of 7.21 seconds, and turned out to be just fine despite that? More than likely not.
- Did those scouts account for the fact that evidence shows that the 3-cone drill and short-shuttle drill times are perhaps the two least important metrics in determining success for receiving prospects standing 6'2" or taller when entering the NFL? Almost certainly not.
Instead, all the decision-making powers-that-be started wondering whether Metcalf lacked the flexibility and quick twitch to succeed at the NFL level, despite all of the quantitative and qualitative evidence to the contrary.
Given all of the above, at least some credit has to be given General Manager John Schneider and Head Coach Pete Carroll, who stayed true to their ongoing modus operandi of “give me ‘height-length-speed guys,’ and I/we will figure out the rest,” leveraging all the reasons a team like them should go ahead and draft Metcalf, when the rest of the NFL was too busy finding all the reasons not to do so.
That DK Metcalf‘s “official” coming out party is taking place so early this season, literally just under 18 months after being drafted, clearly shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention.
Over the second half of his rookie season last year, Metcalf had 35 catches for 498 yards and 3 touchdowns, recording at least 70 yards receiving in 5 of Seattle’s last 8 regular season games. Those numbers won’t necessarily jump off the page for some, even though they may not account for the fact(s) that Seattle was the third-most run-heavy offense in the NFL last year, and in those relatively few plays they did throw the ball, Metcalf was sharing targets as he ran opposite of Tyler Lockett.
Nonetheless, any such limiting factors to Metcalf’s production have been thrown out the window, because Metcalf’s production has been nothing short of dominant through this first stretch of the 2020 NFL season.
Despite falling outside of the top 20 receivers in the NFL this year in terms of total receptions (22), he actually ranks #3 in total receiving yards through five games (496) and leads the NFL in yards per reception; his 22.5 yards is a full two yards more than any other receiver in the league. He has only one game this year in which he’s caught more than 5 passes, yet he’s the only wide receiver in the NFL to record at least 92 receiving yards in every game he’s played this season.
Yes, it clearly helps that Metcalf has been paired with a quarterback like Russell Wilson, the latter of whom is playing absolutely out of his mind and looks like the runaway favorite for this year’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
But if we’re really assigning praise for Metcalf’s early and rapid development, a lot of it has to go to their coaching staff. Instead of forcing Metcalf to master an NFL route tree from the get-go, especially after playing in an Ole Miss offense that really didn’t require him to learn more than 3 or 4 route types, the Seahawks’ coaches smartly decided to let him run a select few routes with which he’s already comfortable, so he’s not out there having to think too much, and can thereby take advantage of his seemingly unlimited athletic ability.
If you look at Metcalf’s route chart for 2020, you’ll basically see a whole bunch of slant patterns, crossing routes, post corner routes, and go routes — routes designed to let him build up acceleration in the open field, get a head of steam, and allow him to use his toolkit of physical traits to beat whoever has the unfortunate assignment of guarding him:
- He ripped off big chunks of yardage when Miami’s Xavien Howard was playing zone coverage on him.
- He spent much of much of his Week 2 matchup absolutely bullying New England’s Stephon Gilmore — you know, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
- I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler of the Minnesota Vikings suffered from bouts of PTSD this week, after Metcalf and Wilson basically put the Seahawks’ offense on their back during Seattle’s game-winning touchdown drive against Minnesota (much of Metcalf’s damage came at Dantzler’s expense).
During some early-stage planning notes, for a column ranking the top 20 to 25 receivers in the NFL that I’m aiming to publish the very near future, I included Metcalf on my early list(s); the problem was, where I previously had him ranked seems comically low, on second glance. In that regard, I actually took some comfort in reading that ProFootballFocus.com had Metcalf ranked in their top 15 wide receivers in the NFL this season to date, and still sounded a bit sheepish for ranking him too low.
Those second thoughts happen when you start to see the numbers he puts up, and then remind yourself that his athletic and football-skills ceiling is like a wet dream of thought experiments from mad genetic scientists:
- “what would it look like if Julio Jones spent an entire offseason using Barry Bonds’ entire stash of ‘the cream’ and ‘the clear’ as part of his training regimen?”
- “what if you put Calvin Johnson’s pass-catching skills into a 6'5” version of Mike Tyson?”
- “what would happen if you took a whole bunch of the super-soldier serum given to Steve Rogers and injected it into Michael Thomas?”
Regardless of the chicken-or-egg conundrum of “is Metcalf putting up these numbers because he’s just so much more physically gifted than everyone else” or “Metcalf is putting these huge numbers while still not having scratched the surface of marrying his physical skills and his football skills together,” you have to consider the terrifying reality of what it would look like if he did combine his natural football talents with his God-given athletic gifts.
Over the last two decades, NFL fans have seen an incredible number of height-weight-speed monsters at the wide receiver position come into the NFL and terrorize opposing teams, including the aforementioned Johnson and Jones, along with Andre Johnson and a few other guys we can have debates about (Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, and the like); all the way through Randy Moss (the Vice GOAT of wide receivers himself).
Given his current level of production, the trajectory his career has taken so early on, and of course, the quarterback he’s fortunate to be catching passes from, it doesn’t feel like that much a stretch to think that Metcalf could be mentioned among such an esteemed group one day —perhaps even in the not-too-distant future. ■
Week 6 NFL Picks
Lines obtained from MyBookie.ag, as of Friday (10/16) morning.
Washington at NY Giants (-3)
Chicago at Carolina (-1)
Detroit (-3.5) at Jacksonville
Atlanta at Minnesota (-4)
Houston at Tennessee (-3.5)
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-4)
Baltimore (-8.5) at Philadelphia
Cincinnati at Indianapolis (-8)
Denver at New England (-9.5)
NY Jets at Miami (-10)
Green Bay (-1.5) at Tampa Bay
LA Rams (-3.5) at San Francisco
Kansas City (-4.5) at Buffalo
Arizona (-1.5) at Dallas
Last Week: 5–6
Season To Date: 35–23