With the first round of the NFL Draft set to kick off Thursday at 8 PM, we will finally get the answer to a question that has been asked for nearly two months; just how high will D.K. Metcalf being a Combine marvel get him drafted?
The physical specimen, designated as a wide receiver, looks like he was created in a lab, and has the potential to be a truly dominant player. But he has some real concerns, and the track record for first-round receivers isn’t exactly great. Metcalf is a polarizing prospect, and is bound to make half of the fans of his new team very happy, and the other half angry.
Metcalf stands 6’3″ 228lbs and has 34 7/8″ arms. He has elite size, and packs a great amount of strength in his frame, as he put up 27 reps on the bench press, which tied for first among all wideouts. His film showed he was fast, but his 4.33-second 40-yard dash tied for fourth among all Combine participants, and he did that at nearly 230lbs. He also jumped 40.5″ in the vertical and 134″ in the broad.
However, Metcalf’s Combine wasn’t perfect. He had abysmal times of 7.38 seconds in the Three-Cone and 4.5 seconds in the Short Shuttle, slower times than Tom Brady. He improved on those slightly at his Pro Day, but they are still bad. Those two drills are representative of a player’s agility and short-area quickness, two things that are vitally important for a WR, where the smallest of movements can mean the difference between creating separation and getting open, or not.
Metcalf’s production is also not that of an elite prospect. In 19 games, he had 65 catches for 1,215 yards and 12 touchdowns. In addition, he suffered a neck injury which forced him to miss nearly half of the 2018 season. His route tree is limited (although that may be more indicative of a terrible offensive system rather than Metcalf’s inability to run routes) and he drops too many passes to be considered a reliable primary target.
In spite of all this, D.K. Metcalf should still be a top-20 pick. His blend of size and speed is something the NFL hasn’t seen since Calvin Johnson, who ironically didn’t run the Three-Cone or Shuttle drills, as his times would likely have been similar to Metcalf’s. He is a very raw and unpolished block of marble, but with the right offensive system and coaching, he could be turned into a masterpiece.
Here, the cornerback is beaten so badly that he attempts to just tackle Metcalf before he has caught the ball, in order to stop the TD in exchange for a pass interference penalty. The problem is that Metcalf is so fast the CB isn’t able to tackle him.
This might be Metcalf’s most well-known play. He gives an outside jab-step, bats the DB’s inside hand off his chest, and then turns on the jets. His long arms allow him to snag in the pass and keep his balance. That CB is Saivion Smith, who will be drafted this weekend.
On this play, Arkansas respects Metcalf’s deep speed by giving him a massive cushion. His break on this out route isn’t fantastic, but it does the job, and he breaks the tackle and picks up a nice amount of yardage.
Here, the CB doesn’t want to give Metcalf the sideline, so Metcalf just takes the the outside seam for the TD instead. Both his hand usage and his footwork on this play are stellar.
End zone fades are a bit out of style, but when you have a guy as big and physical as Metcalf, it certainly makes sense to use them. The corner that Metcalf embarrassed in these last two clips is Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson, who stands 6’2″ 213lbs and could be a first-round pick.
D.K. Metcalf isn’t thrown the ball on this play, but he runs a very nice route on a slant. The corner who is covering him, #2, is Patrick Surtain Jr., who will likely be the first defensive back taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
This is a run-pass option that turned into a run, but again, Metcalf runs a great route and gets instant separation on a streak.
Here, Metcalf takes too many steps to curl the top of his route, but he shows good awareness on the sideline and then great running ability with the ball in his hands.
Metcalf is talked about as a boom-or-bust prospect, and while his ceiling is incredibly high, I’m not sure his floor is as low as some make it out to be. Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill is often brought up as what Metcalf could turn into, but Hill wasn’t good after the catch and didn’t have good hands. Metcalf has too many concentration drops but also shows he has soft and strong hands.
Even if he is never able to run a nuanced route tree, the go, the dig, the fade, and the slant alone is enough for him to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Run blocking isn’t a main skill for a receiver, and a prospect certainly shouldn’t be written off because he isn’t good at it, but the skill is a bonus, and Metcalf is a fierce and willing blocker with the size and strength to be a major factor in the run game.
His NFL team must avoid making two main mistakes. The first would be to use him just as Ole Miss used him; the Rebels practically allowed him to only run go routes or screens, which is why most of his highlights look very similar. The second would be to attempt to make him into an all-around receiver. He is never going to be able to run routes like Stefon Diggs or Odell Beckham Jr. Use him like Calvin Johnson or Josh Gordon, where he can best take advantage of his size and speed.
D.K. Metcalf is certainly a risky prospect, but the reward is possibly the highest peak of any receiver in the game today. Metcalf will need time and coaching in order to maximize his physical gifts, but if he is developed and used correctly, we will be looking back on this draft and wondering why he wasn’t taken higher.