In just about every way, the 2019 NFL Draft represented business as usual for the Seattle Seahawks. Trading back to collect additional picks, targeting scheme-specific prospects to fill needs, and seemingly reaching for players others had rated lower than most are all trademarks of general manager John Schneider.
But that all changed Friday night when Schneider and coach Pete Carroll went off-script, using pick No. 64 to take a highly recognizable player that nearly every fan could identify as a potential future star.
When Seattle selected Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf after trading up to the end of the second round with New England, they added more than just the most physically gifted receiving prospect seen in years. Metcalf achieved instant rock star status after his performance at the NFL scouting combine, as the 6-foot-3, 228-pound receiver, who says he carries only 3 percent body fat on his chiseled physique, recorded an impressive time of 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a 40.5-inch vertical jump, and a broad jump of over 11 feet.
Additionally, he showed off his freakish strength with 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a rare feat for a prospective NFL receiver.
After his showing in Indianapolis, Metcalf rocketed up mock drafts boards, universally pegged as a top-15 pick. You’d be hard pressed to find a mock draft that had any other wide receiver being picked ahead of him.
But what happened? Why the massive tumble down draft boards?
Some of the reasons are tangible, others more speculative.
For starters, not everything about his combine performance stood out for positive reasons. Tests aimed at measuring lateral agility didn’t go as well for Metcalf, as he posted poor times of 4.5 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle drill and 7.38 seconds in the 3 cone drill. There may have also been medical concerns, as a neck injury sustained during the 2018 season required surgery, causing him to miss the final five games. The Seahawks are confident that injury is 100-percent healed and the receiver told reporters he's been cleared to play.
But still, how does a receiver that big, that fast, and that physically imposing go from being a consensus top-20 pick to one selection away from being a third-rounder?
Even Carroll couldn't believe it.
"We never would have thought that we would have had a shot to get him. When John [Schneider] realized, he just snapped at the opportunity to get a pick to elevate, so we could have that 64th pick. I was shocked." Carroll said following the end of the draft. "That was as much fun as I’ve had. Just to have that guy on our team. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, everything converged perfectly. We nailed it, and yes we got the trade, and bang, bang, bang, he made it to us. It was really exciting.”
When looking at Metcalf's fall, maybe it’s a case of paralysis analysis.
Maybe scouts thought his physical traits were too good to be true. Some have been burned in the past by similar “workout warriors” (former Jet wide receiver Stephen Hill comes to mind as a prime example). Guys who looked great getting off the bus but couldn’t learn a pro route tree or actually catch a football, which are mandatory skills for receivers to succeed in the NFL.
But there’s plenty to like when you watch Metcalf on tape, as he exhibits traits that suggest he’s more than just a one-trick-pony deep threat. He’s physical at the point of attack, often slapping defenders hands away, gaining immediate separation on his release. He also gets to top speed quickly, unlike many long-striding bigger receivers. He has a second gear, evident when the ball is in the air and he has to track it down. His hands are solid, and he goes up and high points the ball well, adept at gaining position and winning contested catches.
Another knock on Metcalf often heard in scouting circles is “well, he only runs four routes,” including slants, posts, go-routes and screens. But is that really his fault? Ole Miss runs an Air Raid-style spread system with a more simplistic route tree. Can’t he, you know, learn to run other routes? It's also worth noting the aforementioned routes are the most important routes you can run. Furthermore, the league is full of receivers who specialize, who are only asked to do what they do best. Maximizing Metcalf’s upside will be about putting him in a position to succeed by utilizing his best traits, rather than asking him to do anything he struggles with. This is something Carroll excels at, so his excitement about landing this particular prospect is easy to understand.
Regardless of what you think about the Seahawks other 10 selections during the draft, with many labeled as reaches by a number of draft analysts, the pick of Metcalf bucks the trend. At pick No. 64, this is a no-lose, high-upside, tremendous value selection. Metcalf addresses a need and his game meshes perfectly with that of Russell Wilson and the offensive philosophy of Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Imagine Metcalf and Tyler Lockett teaming up to challenge defenses deep while linebackers and defensive backs are forced to hold for that split-second to honor Seattle’s physical rushing and play-action game?
As is the case with every draft pick only time will tell if Metcalf ultimately fulfills his potential. But based on the cost of investment, there’s very little risk in taking a chance on such a high-ceiling prospect, and finally Seahawks fans get to bask in the joy of their team drafting a high-profile star they actually recognize.