GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ defense has a big problem on its hands.
His name is D.K. Metcalf. In Seattle’s victory at Philadelphia last week, his 160 receiving yards were the most by a rookie in NFL playoff history. At 6-foot-3 3/8 and 228 pounds, he is half receiver, half bodybuilder. At the Scouting Combine, he ran his 40 in 4.33 seconds and put up 27 reps on the 225-pound bench press. If that’s not enough, he’s got 34 7/8-inch arms – most offensive linemen would happily trade – and a 40.5-inch vertical. With long arms and an explosive vertical, Metcalf’s catch radius is about the size of a ZIP code.
Despite that prodigious set of physical tools, Metcalf was deemed a flawed prospect in this year’s flawed receiver class. He wasn’t a good route runner and didn’t play much last year due to a neck injury that initially put his career in jeopardy and was a red flag for some teams. Metcalf dropped all the way to the bottom of the second round, with Seattle giving up third- and fourth-round picks in a trade with New England.
While not a perfect prospect, he’s perfect for Seattle’s long-ball passing attack. After a solid rookie season of 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns, Metcalf was dominant at Philadelphia. He scored on a 53-yard touchdown, clinched the game with a 36-yard reception on third-and-10 and finished the night with four catches of 24-plus yards.
“D.K. was special tonight and he’s been special all year,” quarterback Russell Wilson said after the game. “He’s one of the best rookies that’s come out and has a nice little chip on his shoulder, too. I’m glad he’s on our team, that’s for sure. He’s like American Pharoah out there – he gets stronger as the race goes on.”
That game wasn’t too big for Metcalf perhaps because he’s been around football his entire life. His father, Terrence, was an NFL guard for seven seasons. His grandfather, Terry Metcalf, was an NFL running back for six seasons. An uncle, Eric Metcalf, was an NFL running back, receiver and returner for 14 seasons.
“(D.K.) got to be around a lot of guys who were really good at the game,” Terrence said. “When he was in about the second or third grade, (former Bears safety) Bobby Gray started working with him. At that age when you’re a parent trying to train your child, they don’t want to listen to you, so you get them with someone else. … The things he remembers helped him become a better receiver. He remembers all of the passing routes he was taught by the guys in the NFL.”
When you’re big, fast, strong and explosive, the best route is the go route. According to Pro Football Focus, Metcalf is seventh in the league with 13 receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield. Three of those came against the Eagles.
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In football lingo, a 50/50 ball is a contested catch in which the offensive and defensive player have a relatively equal chance of coming down with the ball. With his size, Metcalf believes he’s turned the equation. “99-1 balls I call them,” he said at the Combine. “The 1 percent I'm not coming down with it, it may be a bad ball by the quarterback. … Anytime I got a smaller corner, I’m going to use that to my advantage to you know get him, use my big body to go up and make them help me make the contested catch.”
Metcalf won’t have a smaller corner on him on Sunday. He figures to square off against Green Bay cornerback Kevin King, who also is 6-foot-3. Metcalf, however, has advantages of 28 pounds and about one-tenth of a second in the 40.
“I think he’s good. I think he has become a lot more comfortable as the season has gone on,” King said on Wednesday.
The coaches who will be pacing the sideline on Sunday see a potentially elite player.
“He’s so big and physical,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said in his conference call with Seahawks beat reporters. “I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do. He can run every route. He’s really fast. I was really impressed with him when I got a chance to sit down with him at the Combine. He’s gone out there and done it. Just for what he’s done as a rookie, I think it’s been pretty impressive. I think he’s going to be one of those true elite receivers, a true No. 1 in the game. I think he’s got a really bright future.”
That’s what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believed when studying Metcalf before the draft.
“If you really studied him, you can see he can do anything,” Carroll said in his conference call with Packers beat reporters. “He made miraculous plays. He just didn’t have a lot of them; he only caught 29 balls his senior year. The whole thing was a big setup to second guess. Everybody second-guessed their evaluation of him and came to the conclusion this guy is all this fluff and all that. He’s the real deal. He’s a great competitor and a magnificent athlete, as we can tell. He’s just got character and competitiveness that you need. He’s going to be a fantastic player in all aspects of it. He wants to block. He wants to get on special teams. He wants to rush the punter. He wants to return kicks. He wants to do everything. He’s just got a great mentality and I think he’s going to have an incredible career.”
Green Bay’s coverage, with King and Jaire Alexander as the corners, has tightened down the stretch. Over the last four games, on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, opposing quarterbacks have completed 8-of-22 passes for 223 yards with one touchdown vs. three interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. This, however, will be a huge challenge because of the quarterback and his lightning-fast receivers. In regular-season games only, Tyler Lockett tied for sixth with 13 receptions on deep passes and Metcalf tied for 14th with 10. Only Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (40) had more deep completions than Wilson (36) and only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (13) had more deep touchdowns than Wilson (11).
“It was a perfect situation for me,” Metcalf told reporters in Seattle. “At the moment [he was drafted], I was mad. After everything is said and done, looking back at it, just happy that I landed here. Great quarterback, great offense, great team, organization. We’re in the playoffs. Still playing and a lot of teams are at home. It was a great moment.”