Opinion: DK Metcalf has accelerated his evolution, yet Seahawks WR still has room to grow

Mike Jones
View Comments

With each passing week, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf seems to ascend a bit higher. With each “did you see what he just did?” clip, his star shines a bit brighter. The second-year pro is increasingly becoming a force in the NFL. 

A physical marvel ever since a pre-draft workout photo displaying his eye-popping physique went viral, and the 6-foot-3, 229-pound pass catcher clocked a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 scouting combine, Metcalf had, by all accounts, a good rookie season: 58 catches, 900 yards and seven touchdowns.

But the second-round pick didn’t even fully know what he was doing, according to his position coach, Nate Carroll. 

A year later, thanks to a training camp devoted to learning the finer details of route-running and overall technique, Metcalf is in the midst of an evolution that could produce one of the most unstoppable forces in the game.

“I think you see a player who is a lot more confident in who he is. ... It seems like he feels like there’s no one who can guard him,” former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin told USA TODAY Sports. “A guy with that size and speed is a tough matchup. You put cornerbacks on him, he’s a lot bigger, stronger than those corners. If you’re trying to match up size-wise, putting a safety on him or something, I don’t think they’ll be able to match from a skill standpoint or a speed standpoint. He’s a nightmare matchup for corners and safeties in this league. … He has a different kind of confidence this year.”

Last month, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson declared of Metcalf, “He’s the best in the world at what he does. He’s continued to evolve into one of the best receivers in the game. Not to be shy about it, I think he is one of the top receivers in the game. He can do it all – he can run by you, he can jump over you, he can get physical with you.”

High praise, but the “best in the world” stance could wind up proving prophetic if Metcalf continues this trajectory.

NFL WEEK 9 PICKS:Do Buccaneers or Saints wind up with NFC South lead?

TOUGHER TACKLE:Cowboys DE Randy Gregory opens up on tackling anxiety

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (14) in action during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz.

Through eight weeks, Metcalf tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches with seven. He ranks fourth in yards per game (97.1) and receptions of 20 yards or more (10). That production comes despite Metcalf going through what Carroll called the "growing pains of learning different routes.” 

On Sunday, Metcalf recorded a career day: 12 catches on 15 targets, 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

“Finally, he’s kind of hitting his stride in a lot of these routes,” Carroll, the son of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, told USA TODAY Sports. 

Two key areas reflect Metcalf’s growth the most: the way that the Seahawks are using him this year and the ease with which he is getting open.

Used primarily as an outside receiver tasked with running a select number of routes as a rookie, Metcalf now lines up at varying spots. Seattle’s coaches also are steadily increasing the number of plays in which Metcalf operates out of the slot to create more mismatches. They are able to do this because Metcalf better understands how defensive backs will try to defend routes and how to react accordingly. 

Whenever he watched Metcalf’s rookie film, Carroll observed how his pupil's unrefined techniques both limited himself and tipped off opponents.

A point of emphasis entering Year 2 involved fine-tuning how Metcalf fires off the line and makes cuts and breaks during routes. 

“We’ve worked on a lot of things, but one we’ve been working on: playing lower,” Carroll said. “He tends to play pretty high. If you watched him last year, lots of times, he’s prancing around like a show horse. Now, he’s really driving off the ball a lot better. And his releases have really, really jumped this year. He’s finally got a grip on a variety of things he can do."

The coach continued, “Most DBs are watching him and thinking, ‘When he does this, he’s going to do this. When he does this, he’s going to do that.’ You can kind of clue in. … So, this year, it’s been about honing in, making everything look the same, and really just working on being low, being precise and not being so sporadic at times.”

Last Sunday, Metcalf did a better job of driving hard off the line. He sold routes well and repeatedly threw defensive backs for a loop. They slipped and recovered too late on his comeback routes. They played off him, giving too much cushion on receiver screens or crossing routes. Again and again, Metcalf made uncontested catches. 

Then, on those contested routes, Metcalf’s size and strength played to his advantage as he absorbed heavy contact but still managed to make catches. 

“This last game was a great example of how much he can change up at the line of scrimmage, which makes it really hard for guys to know what he’s going to do, and what route he’s running,” Carroll said.  

Coaches and teammates praise Metcalf for his tireless work ethic and drive and predict an even loftier rise for the young wide receiver.

Metcalf doesn’t believe he has come anywhere close to arriving yet. But he takes no credit for his success. He attributes his growth to the effectiveness of fellow receiver Tyler Lockett and the attention he commands, and the coaching of Carroll and assistant receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

“It just feels like the game is slowing down,” Metcalf said on Thursday. “Coach Nate and coach Sanjay have been exceptional in our wide receivers room with how close to detail they have been in practice and translating everything to the field. … I haven’t done anything to be famous yet.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

View Comments