Of the 10 practices between rookie minicamp, organized team activities and veteran minicamp that were open to reporters, not one went by without Metcalf making a head-turning play or two. He beat defenders off the line of scrimmage, and he made outstretched catches in traffic over the middle and leaping ones down the sideline. He got lots of work with quarterback Russell Wilson and the No. 1 offense.
All while wearing a hooded sweatshirt that obscured his massive biceps.
DK Metcalf came into his pre-draft interview with Seattle with his shirt off after a scout talked him into it.
Pete Carroll was shocked so he took his off too 😂
— ESPN (@espn) April 27, 2019
Leading up to and immediately after the NFL draft, in which the Seahawks traded up to take Metcalf with the final pick of the second round, he was perhaps known just as much for his hulking physique as he was for what he did on the field at Ole Miss.
But this spring, he was more than merely a physical specimen. Wilson pointed to Metcalf’s football knowledge when asked what about the rookie wide receiver has stood out most.
“Everybody knows about his ability to run and everything else, and jump and catch and all that,” Wilson said. “You guys have been talking about that for months, but I think more than anything else, it’s his brain and how he processes information and how quickly he understands it. He’s really intelligent. He really understands the game really well. He takes coaching really well. He gets extra work. He’s a legit pro wide receiver. He’s everything that everybody was talking about in terms of what he’s capable of and more.”
Metcalf, at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, has looked like a professional receiver during offseason work, so much so that it was easy to momentarily forget about all the concerns over his route running, lateral agility and NFL readiness. Metcalf ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine but produced less impressive results in some of the agility drills. He managed 26 catches for 569 yards and five touchdowns before a neck injury ended his final season at Ole Miss after only seven games.
“Very natural player,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He hasn’t had any trouble doing anything we’re doing. He looks like he’s done it before. He’s got to get more disciplined. He’s got splits and all kinds of things, rules that he’s got to get right, but the physical things that [receivers coach Nate Carroll is] asking him to do, he can do it. He can do it. The route changes that we’re doing, the adjustments, his body control. He’s really been a marvelous competitor in this camp. We’ve seen plays out of him every day that look special, and most of it comes out of, one, his speed, but the other is his catching range and the ability to get out away from his body and get up off his feet and make really special catches.
“So we don’t see any hindrance, restriction at all. He’s in here competing to play.”
Now, for the mandatory pumping of the breaks. The usual caveats about offseason practices apply here. The noncontact format — Seahawks defensive backs weren’t fully contesting catches — sets pass-catchers up to shine. And there are a few cautionary tales from recent Seahawks past about getting too excited over an impressive spring from a rookie receiver.
In 2010, it was Golden Tate, who arrived with similar fanfare as a second-round pick coming off an All-American season that earned him the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. He made play after play over the spring and summer and looked poised for a strong rookie season. He was benched in Week 1 and finished the year with only 21 catches.
Carroll has theorized aloud that Tate’s football development was stunted in college because of the double duty he pulled as an outfielder on Notre Dame’s baseball team, which took him away from spring practices. Tate readily admitted years after the fact that he was skating by on his athleticism as a rookie and didn’t really understand the finer points of the position.
As for Metcalf?
“I think he’s way above what people from the outside probably expected him to be,” said Tyler Lockett, Seattle’s No. 1 receiver. “The way that he does a lot of his releases, he changes it up every single day. You’re going against the defense where people know, OK, if he does this, he does this every single day, I know how to be able to approach it. But some days he changes up the way that he approaches his aggressiveness. Sometimes he’s aggressive, sometimes he slows it up, sometimes he uses his hands, two days later he doesn’t use his hands and people are off guard when it comes to being able to guard him.”
Metcalf was the first player Wilson mentioned when asked about the new-look receiver corps, which includes three draft picks (Seattle also chose Gary Jennings in the fourth round and John Ursua in the seventh) and no more Doug Baldwin.
“It’s great seeing DK make his plays,” Wilson said. “I think DK is looking really, really special. He can do anything and everything, and he’s tremendous.”
Public praise from the uber-positive Wilson is not hard to come by. But trust is. Wilson is so protective of the football, so wired to avoid turnovers, that he’s not going to throw to a receiver who hasn’t earned his trust. It is thus telling how regularly he went to Metcalf during offseason practices. Metcalf made a strong impression on his quarterback on the field and behind the scenes.
“I could kind of tell as soon as he got drafted,” Wilson said. “We talked on the phone as soon as that happened. We talked for about 15-20 minutes just about where he wanted to go and everything else. I could tell. You could sense it … you kind of can tell the guys that are really hunting for something special, and I think he is.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t care to set any expectations for Metcalf’s rookie season. It’s June, after all. Training camp and the preseason will offer a better gauge of where Metcalf and veterans David Moore and Jaron Brown stand in the pecking order behind Lockett. Metcalf has a leg up on Jennings and Ursua, both of whom missed time with hamstring injuries, as well as fellow rookies Jazz Ferguson and Terry Wright.
“It’s too early to say that,” Schottenheimer said. “Just continue to develop. Continue to work. I think the sky’s the limit with the potential. I love his work ethic. He’s a terrific worker. Whether he’s catching tennis balls on the Jugs I see sometimes, I see balls flying around. So I think, again, a lot of it is going to be the timing he gets with Russ, but I’m very pleased with what we see right now.”
Carroll was asked how much it has helped Metcalf’s football development to have a father who played in the NFL. Terrence Metcalf was a guard for the Bears from 2002 to 2008.
“There’s something to that,” Carroll said. “Guys, lots of times, they gain a savvy just from sitting at the dinner table. It happens. … We’re just going to go and see how far we can go with him and see how much he can earn his playing time.”