“A big monster.”
That’s how New York Giants defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, who has to figure out a way to defend him this Sunday, described Seattle Seahawks’ 6-foot-4, 235-pound, 4.33-40-yard dash-running wide receiver DK Metcalf.
Giants head coach Joe Judge described Metcalf this way:
“This guy is a rare guy. You try to simulate his size and speed and playmaking down the field. You don’t have a lot of guys walking the earth like him.”
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham calls Metcalf a “unique talent.”
“I can’t tell you specifically who he reminds me of exactly. He’s such a unique talent in my opinion,” Graham said. “The size, the ability to block in the run game. That’s one that stands out for me. He’s actually a point of attack blocker. Like you would say the left side of the line is the point of attack or right side of the line is a point of attack. He’s a point of attack blocker in the run game. That stands out to me.”
Each week I try to select a player from each team I would like to take from that team and put into the Giants’ lineup. Some weeks that choice is difficult. This week isn’t one of those weeks. The clear choice is Metcalf, the star 22-year-old who Judge also referred to as “an elite player in the league.”
Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones has been the NFL’s best deep ball passer in 2020. His deep ball completion percentage of 63.0 and passer rating of 143.1 both lead NFL starting quarterbacks. Imagine what he could do with Metcalf, who averages 17.9 yards per catch and is thought by many to be the game’s most devastating deep threat.
There are two central questions with Metcalf:
- How do you defend him when you will ALWAYS be at a physical disadvantage?
- How did he last to the 64th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft?
Let’s take the two questions one at a time.
How do you defend him?
Really, you don’t. You pray that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is running for his life and can’t find him.
“You hope that the pass rush is really fired up and they’re after him [Wilson] chasing him around so he doesn’t have clean shots at the guy,” Henderson said. “Down the field he’s such a big man and so fast that he is a problem down the field.”
There aren’t any 6-4, 235-pound cornerbacks with 4.33 speed in the NFL. The safeties and linebackers who might be that size, or at least close to it, can’t run nearly well enough and don’t have the coverage skills.
Matt Waldman of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, one of the pre-eminent experts when it comes to analyzing skill position players, said you can’t press Metcalf even though he doesn’t have the typical short-area quickness to escape the jam.
Waldman said Metcalf is “extremely violent with his hands off the line of scrimmage. He throws his hands with the power and suddenness of a boxer …. He’s gonna bludgeon you as a smaller corner and then just run by you.”
In the end, Waldman agreed with Henderson that the pass rush is your best weapon against Metcalf’s big-play ability.
“Probably the best thing you can do, and it’s the hardest thing to do, which is why it hasn’t been successful for most teams, is ideally you want to get enough pressure on Russell Wilson and slow down Metcalf early enough in his route, and obviously that’s not gonna happen,” Waldman said.
“If you play off of Metcalf and keep him in front of you and rally to the ball and hope that you can get early pressure on him (Wilson) you can at least limit Metcalf enough that he doesn’t take over the game.”
Giants’ cornerback James Bradberry might draw the assignment of shadowing Metcalf. Bradberry, formerly with the Carolina Panthers, has faced big wide receivers like Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a number of times.
“He’s similar to their skillset,” Bradberry said. “Physical, 6-4, runs 4.3, can run, definitely. a hard matchup, definitely a challenge for us Sunday.”
Graham hopes the Giants can simply “make it tough” for Metcalf to make plays.
“I think what we have to do, we have to make it tough for him. We have to make it tough on him. Whether it’s playing off coverage, press coverage. When he goes to block, get our hands on him. He’s a unique talent. He’s going to find a way to get open. That’s the nature of it,” Graham said. “Is it as simple as the pass rush? I wish, I do hope the pass rush gets there. We’re going to have to play ball to figure out what’s best for that when we get to Sunday.”
How did Metcalf last to the 64th pick?
Read the glowing scouting reports on Metcalf from The Draft Network, a respected NFL Draft website, and you think this young man had to be a top-half of Round 1 selection.
Look at the pre-draft photo of him with his shirt off and you wonder how anyone would ever tackle him.
DK Metcalf has somehow gotten bigger since last we saw him pic.twitter.com/DdkEZ2my6g— Bunkie Perkins (@BunkiePerkins) February 11, 2019
Look at the spider chart showing his measurables and it’s hard not to think somebody made it up.
Yet, Metcalf went No. 64. He was the third player the Seahawks drafted. They took defensive end L.J. Collier 29th and safety Marquise Blair 47th. Metcalf was the ninth wide receiver chosen in the draft. Players like N’Keal Harry (21st, New England Patriots) and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (57th, Philadelphia Eagles) were selected before Metcalf.
Metcalf had a pair of major injuries at Ole Miss, a broken foot and a broken neck, that may have scared some teams. Some teams apparently thought his body worked against him, that he was too big to be an NFL wide receiver. There were also concerns that his poor 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times indicated he wouldn’t be able to get off the line of scrimmage and get open.
“He looks like something out of a comic book, but one of the concerns that people have when they look at someone who is built like a comic book super hero or super villain is that, especially at the wide receiver position, is that he might be liable to run out of his Achilles and his calf muscle at any moment,” Waldman said.
“Teams were probably concerned with his build, that he was not going to stay healthy with a first-round or second-round level of targets, meaning that he’s going to be their only primary option.”
Reality is, NFL teams have not been good in recent years at correctly identifying the collegiate wide receivers who would make the best NFL players.
- In 2015, Kevin White went No. 7 overall to the Chicago Bears. The Minnesota Vikings drafted Stefon Diggs in Round 5.
- In 2016, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Laquan Treadwell and Sterling Shepard (in that order) were selected ahead of Michael Thomas.
- In 2017, the Cincinnati Bengals selected John Ross No. 9. JuJu Smith-Schuster was selected 62nd, Cooper Kupp 69th and Kenny Golladay 96th.
- In 2020, Jalen Reagor went No. 21 to the Philadelphia Eagles and Chase Claypool went No. 49 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, a little bit like quarterbacks, the NFL is not always good at projecting who will and will not make a successful transition to the league at the wide receiver position.
Back to Metcalf. Why did the NFL miss on him? Or, did they not really miss at all and Metcalf just landed in the perfect spot?
“I don’t think the NFL necessarily missed what he really is. I think Seattle really understood that it had a good fit for what Metcalf is. He is getting an opportunity to maximize his skills in an offense with a quarterback that’s well-suited to what he does,” Waldman said.
“If you ask Metcalf to do what Odell Beckham Jr. did as a route runner you’re not going to get the highest quality work out of him. But if you ask him to do an isolated number of things at an extraordinarily high level he’s going to produce for you.”