DK Metcalf was an easy target to criticize both before and after his design. He apparently checked all the areas of criticism that a potential customer sees squeezed: workout warrior, unbalanced athletic profile, freshly injured, product of the air raid. All of these criticisms were reasonable in a way. However, Metcalf has also proven to be an excellent example of how important a player’s mental makeup and football intelligence are. It was immediately clear that the Seahawks in Metcalf not only had an incredibly tough worker, but also a savvy, obsessed football player who would do everything in his power to improve.
And did he ever do it?
Even for the loudest critics of Metcalf, it seemed likely that the newcomer could have an impact as a vertical threat. Its straightforward speed and size were and are undeniable. Instead, Seattle’s rookie wideout saw a linear development throughout 2019. Instead of ticking the boxes that confirmed the doubts about his entry into the NFL, he became aware of various facets of his game on the way to becoming a good starter at Wide Receiver.
Much of Metcalf’s success beyond the vertical routes as a beginner was already clear in week 1 and was a good example of his intelligence in the field. Metcalf was consistently successful in the middle of the field – he scored 10 out of 14 goals on slopes *, although he was aware of his strengths and limitations and knows how to do this with a three-cone shuttle bus and a short shuttle with a second percentile and a third percentile was able to maximize the former to mitigate the latter.
(* All graph data using The Quant Edge’s WR / CB tool.)
Metcalf continuously used counterfeiting and vertical steps to force cornerbacks to open their hips and play against him so that Metcalf could break inside and create a separation. From the very first week, Metcalf showed a clear awareness of the defensive players’ respect for his straight forward pace and used it to his advantage.
Another extremely encouraging sign of Metcalf’s debut against the Bengals – and one that continued in 2019 – was the novice’s understanding of what to do with the structure. For any receiver playing with Russell Wilson, it is vital to continue working after the game collapses – for this reason Tyler Lockett, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin continued chemistry with Wilson – and Metcalf had from the start this connection.
Despite the rapid development of Metcalf, he still made his living as a newcomer with vertical routes. Of Metcalf’s 100 destinations this year, 36 went on the route, the route or the route after hiding. Seen vertically, he hit rock bottom when he slipped three catches, 97 yards and a TD through his hands at week 12 in Philadelphia, where he found salvation in the playoffs.
Although Metcalf was inducted into the NFL as a real threat, his commitment to development and refinement also extended to his game as a vertical receiver. On several occasions we saw Metcalf use double trains to shake the open field. Metcalf and the team of coaches seem to recognize the areas of strength where defense is gaining importance, and they have worked to vary the characteristics of Metcalf in these areas.
Similarly, Metcalf’s releases became more active as the season progressed. It is expected that the body’s defenses and cornerbacks will pick up on Metcalf’s little tricks – especially his use of stitch steps and head fakes – and he will have to learn the subtleties of the position further to continue to be successful. If the end of the season is a hint, he will.
Metcalf’s lack of agility and change of direction, which became apparent through his athletic testing, raised doubts as to how complete a route tree he could ever drive could be. We saw early on how it expanded a little due to slopes and other pioneering routes. Over the course of the season, we’ve seen her evolve through curls and comebacks. Although the two routes were only really driven in the second half of the season, they made up a quarter of his destinations.
Similar to how Metcalf uses his prudence to create the middle division, his superior positioning means he can win when he returns to football. Despite choppy steps and slow corners, Metcalf stands between the ball and the defender – the Metcalf has given space due to the cushion that gives him his vertical ability. Because of his physique, there is simply no legal way for a cornerback to come back into play when this happens.
As Metcalf’s success as a beneficiary increased, Wilson also trusted him on intermediate routes. By the end of the season, the connection between Wilson and Metcalf was automatic and that must be overwhelmingly exciting for the Seahawks. A backbone throw requires timing and trust, and Wilson and Metcalf have proven that they already agree on this.
The last piece of Metcalf’s rookie season development has corrected an earlier low. Just as his bad game would be redeemed on Seattle’s first trip to Philadelphia, he spent the last month of the season outperforming his poor performance in week 4. In this game, a trip to Arizona, Metcalf was hit four times. Three of them were shots from the end zone, which were incomplete when the rookie receiver either made incorrect jumps or played quietly at the catch point. It was completely frustrating: a recipient with Metcalf’s athleticism and physique should be consistently successful with competitive catches.
At week 15, Metcalf got a light touchdown attack on Donte Jackson, perfectly coordinating his jump and lowering the score through the helpless cornerback. Another touchdown similarly would follow in week 17, when Metcalf started putting the football on stage. Of course, Metcalf used his newly discovered success to win the game in a historic playoff debut.
Throughout the season, Metcalf was worried about his unbalanced athletic profile and reputation as a one-trick pony by developing subtle nuances for his game and a great partnership with his quarterback. Slowly, the Seahawks began integrating him across the lineup – just a left-sided receiver at Ole Miss, a developmental constraint on crippled Kevin White and other sophisticated receivers – Metcalf ended the season after playing 63 percent of the time on the left , 26 percent on the right and 11 percent in the slot.
Concerns about his health have also been unfounded. Metcalf not only had a healthy 2019, he also showed excellent toughness after being caught. So much so that one of Seattle’s creators became a screen-out for Metcalf.
Among all the criticisms of Metcalf as a potential newcomer, the only one that really got stuck during his rookie season was ball safety. Although he only registered seven drops, he added three costly delusions. The problem of fumbling should be easily resolved while the problem of fumbling is still in progress. There is reason for optimism here too.
Metcalf’s drops were generally a product of focus and not a blatant weakness in his technique. This is something that is fully correctable and that he has worked on to correct it. After training in 2019, he was regularly seen on the JUGS machine. We also saw some examples of incredible focus that should make you think that your focus will increase and the drops will drop.
On the surface, Metcalf’s rookie season was a resounding success: most yards, touchdowns, and catches by a rookie in the Pete Carroll era; the second most frequent catches and yards and the third most frequent touchdowns in franchise history; he joined an illustrious list of wideouts before his 22nd birthday; the most receptive yards of a Seahawks receiver in playoff history; and most yards from a rookie in playoff history.
It’s even more exciting under the surface. Metcalf developed a fairly complete route tree, actively addressing shortcomings in his game during the season and playing his best football in December and January.
The most exciting thing, however, is that Metcalf – on the way to fame – is just beginning.