NFL Film Room - Week 8, 2020 - DK Metcalf: He's Just Better Than You

By Tyler Arthur

One of the biggest – if not the biggest – breakout stars of 2019 came in the form of the Seattle Seahawks’ athletic wide receiver DK Metcalf, who they drafted with the 64th pick of the NFL Draft. He is (apologies for repeating what you have already heard over and over) 6’4 and 230lbs, but he runs efficiently, and insanely fast, with good hands and an ever-growing rapport with his quarterback Russell Wilson.

In 2019 Metcalf showed up and gave people a bit of a taste of what he’s capable of, by pulling in 900 yards and 7 touchdowns in his rookie season, but it’s this year that he has truly entered the spotlight.

On the most talked about offense in the league, the 22-year old from Ole Miss is the biggest talking point.

This week we’re going to look at why that is – but if you don’t have time for any clips, the long and short of it is this: he is an athletic freak, with a quarterback who knows how to put a ball where he wants it. His hands are better than you think, he uses his speed and his notoriety as a deep threat to create separation on shorter routes, and he just scores at an insane rate.

For those of you who want to watch and break down the plays where DK dominated in Week 8 against the San Francisco 49ers, there’s plenty to look at, so let’s get into it:

One Misstep Is All It Takes

This first play we are going to look at is one of two touchdowns that we are going to break down. This is an example of how DK Metcalf can elevate his offense.

The play call that is chosen is one where they come out in a bunch and run a verticals concept with the three receivers in that bunch, where any of those three could get open and beat the defense deep. DK has a much less aggressive route, running a 10-yard in-breaking curl route.

Like I said, every other receiver on this play is going deep, but somehow DK is the one who ends up scoring on this play.

DK Metcalf

This play really is just as simple as a verticals play out of bunch with a backside curl. The goal is to stretch the defense horizontally as they run down the field, and attack wherever they fail to carry the deep routes. The role of DK Metcalf on this play is to create a strain on whatever defender should be carrying Tyler Lockett from the top of the bunch, who runs an arrow route that is aiming in behind Metcalf.

The Niners defense runs a Cover 1 man look on this play, with a safety blitz off edge, but the cornerback who is guarding DK makes it look like he’s in a Cover 3. This isn’t just for deception, by the way, that is the amount of cushion that CB is giving to Metcalf to make sure he doesn’t get beat deep. Ironically it is the effort to stop DK getting behind him that allows this play to explode.

The corner tries to backpedal off enough to keep up if DK runs deep, and then when he has to break forward to try and defend the curl route, he loses his footing and fails completely to break on the ball, allowing possibly the most explosive player in the entire league to catch the ball with nobody around him when he gets his hands on it.

This is a great example of why DK is taking the league by storm this year, he has absolutely no right to score on this play – look, I recognise that the defense was in man coverage and was slow to react to him catching the ball, but seriously, this explosive play after the catch is vintage DK. (Yes, you can already have ‘vintage DK’ even though he’s literally younger than me.)

More Than Just A Burner

In the second quarter, DK was really taking over the game, and there was one sequence in particular that I want to highlight. I won’t break down every play in extreme depth, but I want to try and partially dispel the assumption that he is just an athlete and can only be involved by running either a fade or a slant. He is more versatile – and above all else, more involved – than people realise.

This is a sequence of three consecutive plays in the second quarter.

On this play Metcalf runs a comeback route, but what I liked is how he recognised that the corner had outside leverage, and so he broke inside for just a second to try and show the threat of a post or dig route, and then he broke back outside. The footwork isn’t exactly on the level of his teammate Tyler Lockett, but it’s good enough, and the intelligence to set up this route when he had bad leverage is what I am impressed by.

Next play.

This time DK runs a dig route (the same route he feinted last play) and the defensive back has to grab him to stop him getting wide open, and is flagged for defensive holding.

Next play.

On this play, they motion TE Will Dissly across the formation after lining up, to give them a TE bunch set, with DK Metcalf over on the left outside on his own. If you remember what happened in the first play we broke down, you will know that the Niners took the opportunity against a bunch to roll a safety down and blitzed. On this play they do the same thing. Which means they’re running a one-high coverage again, and DK Metcalf is against press man (on play 1 the corner gave him a huge cushion but this time he’s doing the opposite), and so DK just burns him.

This is a straight up fade route with no bells or whistles. He runs to the outside shoulder of the corner and just runs past him, using his physicality to stay ahead despite some contact on his route, and then very subtly he uses a veteran move to create some separation at the last second, and hauls in a 35-yard catch, as the free safety can do nothing but watch.

Three plays in a row. All three resulting in targets for Metcalf.

  1. A comebacker for 15 yards.
  2. A holding penalty on a dig route.
  3. A fade route for 35 yards.

When everyone thought DK would be little more than a deep threat, the Seahawks started conjuring up ways to use that assumption against defenses. You can’t run with him when he goes deep, but your efforts to be able to do so will allow him to excel in other ways. And, as we just saw, if you don’t respect that deep ball, he will just burn you and restart the cycle again.

Finishing The Job

This drive ended in a touchdown.

Guess who.

After rookie running back, and fantasy favourite for the week, DeeJay Dallas had a touchdown overturned for being out at the one-yard line, the Seahawks ran an RPO to try and create a one on one for the man who got them down the field, and of course you know what happens when you have a one on one with Metcalf.

The RPO sucks down the linebackers to try and stuff the run, which is of course the first threat at this range, but then Russell Wilson pulls the ball and fires a bullet in to Metcalf on the backside slow-release slant. He pretends that he’s just doing some backside “blocking” duties, but then bursts inside and uses his frame to make a contested catch despite having the defender glued to him, and puts Seattle in the lead.

This whole drive epitomised the sheer unstoppable force that the Seahawks have got their hands on.

He’s faster than you, he’s stronger than you, he’s taller than you, and now with more and more experience every week and working with arguably the most dominant QB on the planet, he’s just plain better than you.

Tyler Arthur

NFL Film and Prospect Analyst

A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.