Assessing Washington Redskins first-round options: WR D.K. Metcalf
By Ian Cummings
Scouting D.K. Metcalf
Some say D.K. Metcalf is the next Calvin Johnson. Others say he’s Ramses Barden. The truth, as it happens, is neither. D.K. Metcalf is D.K. Metcalf: An enticing 2019 NFL Draft prospect with otherworldly potential.
There are some concerns with Metcalf up front. He missed games in both 2017 and 2018 due to injury, and his 2018 injury was a neck issue. He lacks the composite production some would seek from a No. 1 wide receiver, although injuries played a large hand in molding his production. There are also other issues that show up on tape, issues we’ll get to later. First, we need to go over the strengths.
It’s become commonplace to call Metcalf a bust after his NFL Combine performance (He may have slipped during his three-cone drill). In fact, it’s become the popular thing to do in some circles. But that dangerous label steers the observer away from so many of Metcalf’s redeeming qualities. And he does, in fact, have many.
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The best thing about Metcalf, on tape, is his prowess against press coverage. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver uses a diverse set of hand technique and footwork to beat press coverage. His lateral quickness shows up in the form of diligent foot movement at the line, and he has a brutal strong arm, which he uses to pry away from press coverage and accelerate into open field.
Metcalf has an innate understanding of how to gain leverage at the line of scrimmage, and create separation. He knows when he’s attained that leverage, and he has the flexibility to bend around cornerbacks and peel off into open space from there. Metcalf dishes out physicality to cornerbacks of similar fire, but he’s not all strength; he’s very coordinated with his movements, and the tape does not show the stiff athlete that many convinced themselves to see at the combine.
Metcalf’s physical traits, including his 4.33 speed, show up on tape, and it’s good to see. His long arms allow him to extend for balls outside the preferred catch radius. His strong hands can win in contested catch situations, even if his consistency wanes when he’s off-balance. He has the ability to high point the ball in tight situations, and he’s very fluid when navigating loose coverage and finding seams in his area. This fluidness bodes well for his NFL career, as does his ball tracking ability. He rarely loses sight of the ball, even in congested situations. And after he catch, Metcalf is tough and explosive, with the traits to develop more skills.
Development is needed more for Metcalf’s route running, however. You may have heard that Metcalf has a fairly thin route tree, and that is correct. Over the four games I watched, he only ran three routes consistently: Go routes, hitch routes, and a few bubble screens.
Metcalf will need to diversify his route tree at the next level, but his underdeveloped state is hardly his own fault. Ole Miss’ offense was criminally simplistic in 2017 and 2018, and with an NFL coach, Metcalf could learn quickly. He’s already shown, in flashes, that he’s fairly abrupt when breaking at the route stem, and he doesn’t have trouble gaining separation with his speed and quickness. It’s not that he necessarily can’t do it; it’s just that he wasn’t asked to.
There’s a saying in draft season: Draft the player for what they can be, not what they are. Yes, there’s not a lot of tape there. But the tape that is there shows an NFL wide receiver, and a very, very good one at that.
D.K. Metcalf vs. Alabama (2018)
D.K. Metcalf vs. Texas Tech (2018)
D.K. Metcalf vs. UL Monroe (2018)