Let’s not get it twisted; the Seahawks handled DK Metcalf’s transition from college to the NFL wonderfully.
As a prospect, Metcalf was slated for the system he played in and strictly lining up on the left side, and received unkind comparisons to busts such as Kevin White. Despite the characteristics shared between Metcalf and several high-profile busts, the rookie phenom quickly put to rest any concern around his future as an NFL player. Playing into his existing strengths, Seattle enabled Metcalf to find immediate success. The large majority of Metcalf’s routes were those he excelled at in college but as the season progressed, curls and fades began to appear more often as Metcalf developed as a possession receiver.
The easy wins in 2019—on vertical routes, slants, and screens—will still be there in 2020 for the Dez Bryant-Centaur hybrid. But 2020 will also be about continuing to round out his gaudy skillset. The contested catches should continue to increase, such was the improvement Metcalf made there in December and January last year. But what about over the middle?
The middle of the field is an area Russell Wilson has previously attacked with a lot of joy. Jimmy Graham and, when healthy, Will Dissly have provided reliable targets up the seam. Paul Richardson earned a big-time second contract by going full extension to haul in passes on dig routes. Josh Gordon provided Wilson with a safety valve in that part of the field last season.
Metcalf’s open field ability, size and catch radius, and the way he can subtly manufacture separation should allow him to win with consistency over the middle of the field on digs and crosses. In 2019, Metcalf saw five combined targets on digs and crosses, and turned them into five catches, 90 yards, and two touchdowns—most famously, the catch and run touchdown in the track meet with the Buccaneers.
DK Metcalf gives the defender a little head nod before he breaks toward the sideline and honestly I'm completely sold on the idea that he's going to develop into a savvy, if not complete, route runner pic.twitter.com/AbKibuvvv0— Alistair Corp (@byalistaircorp) November 6, 2019
In the open field, Metcalf is an absolutely impossible proposition for defenders. As his route tree continues to expand in year two, the Seahawks should look to use him more frequently horizontally, in addition to stretching defenses vertically.
The presence of Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Dissly, and Greg Olsen should allow for another wrinkle in Metcalf’s development, too. As a rookie, Metcalf lined up in the slot on 11% of his snaps, with a large number coming over the first six weeks when Dissly was healthy. Seattle would flex Dissly out wide and bring Metcalf into the slot, forcing a poor safety or linebacker onto Metcalf. It was highly effective, as Metcalf finished 4th in DVOA out of the slot in 2019.
In what will always be a brutal mismatch for the defender, Metcalf can either run right by a flat-footed safety or linebacker, as he did on his first career touchdown, or simply run through an ill-fated nickel corner.
Encouraging to see DK Metcalf rank 4th in DVOA out of the slot/tight among all qualifying WRs in 2019. Only 17 targets/11% of snaps inside and it happened less often after Will Dissly's injury, but he is a matchup nightmare in the slot, aligned tight and going across the field pic.twitter.com/AuaqjUkL89— Alistair Corp (@byalistaircorp) July 30, 2020
With increased depth and health among Wilson’s pass catchers, the Seahawks can be more creative with where they deploy Metcalf, allowing for a true mismatch to find those advantages. The onus is on Seattle’s coaching staff to make 2020 a continuation of 2019 for Metcalf; slowly bring him along in other areas while also continuously putting him in situations to succeed and, as a result, drive winning for the Seahawks. It’s a crucial development to handle correctly but not a thankless job by any means.
Seattle has a budding star at wide receiver, and he is just getting started.