Can D.K. Metcalf break Seattle Seahawks mold, silence critics as a rookie?

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Watching the NFL draft path of D.K. Metcalf was interesting as he went from scouting combine star to something of a slider when the draft rolled around. He fell to the 64th overall selection, right at the bottom of Round 2 and was the ninth wide receiver taken (and the second from his college team, behind A.J. Brown).

But Metcalf has an excellent chance right away with the Seattle Seahawks to change the narrative that he’s a one-trick pony and an injury-prone one at that.

Those might have been the reasons Metcalf slid so far, along with some poor lateral-movement testing to go with his exceptional other combine numbers. The Seahawks might have little choice but to throw Metcalf right into the fire as a rookie.

The early returns — minimal as they might be in shorts and helmets so far — have been positive, too.

Both the media reports about Metcalf’s work in OTAs and head coach Pete Carroll’s comments have been positive to this point. Metcalf and the Seahawks’ top corner, Shaquill Griffin, have reportedly had some nice one-on-one battles so far, and Carroll has dismissed the notion that Metcalf has a limited route tree.

How D.K. Metcalf might fit in as a rookie

Doug Baldwin retired in the offseason, and Tyler Lockett is the only returning receiver who had more than 26 catches last season. The Seahawks had 42.5 percent of their completions go to backs and tight ends last season, although 26 of the team’s 35 passing TDs were caught by receivers. There’s both a void to be filled and a role that the Seahawks easily can slot Metcalf into.

Lockett will be on the field most snaps, many of them in the slot with Baldwin gone, although Metcalf also could be used as a “big slot” receiver for mismatch purposes. According to Warren Sharp, the Seahawks used two or more receivers on 97 percent of their snaps. Metcalf is currently competing for reps with the likes of veterans David Moore, Jaron Brown and Amara Darboh, as well as fellow rookie Gary Jennings, a fourth-rounder.

Lockett is a deep-ball threat, but the Seahawks now should have two of those in the offense. The majority of Metcalf’s routes at Ole Miss were screens, slants, digs, posts and “go” routes, so he enters the NFL with some refinement and needed diversity. The Seahawks easily could limit his route tree and still get a lot out of him. After all, similar questions were raised with Calvin Johnson and Mike Evans coming out of college, and neither of them had trouble assimilating to the NFL as rookies.

Russell Wilson led the NFL among full-season starting QBs in average air yards at a whopping 7.3 per attempt. So while there might be legit griping about the overall design of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s run-run-pass system, we must note that this is a play-action and deep-shot passing game that could suit Metcalf’s jump-ball abilities from the jump.

Metcalf’s college production was limited because of two major injuries, keeping him to a mere 19 starts and 67 receptions. His career 18.3-yard receiving average and 14 TD catches give an idea of what he can do downfield. The combine workouts — a 4.33 40-yard dash, a 40.5-inch vertical jump and 134-inch broad jump — are nothing short of exceptional and will tax most fast corners. And Metcalf’s incredible size and length (absurd 34 7/8-inch arms) will be tough for even the biggest of defensive backs to contend with.

A different breed of Seahawks receiver

When the Seahawks traded up from the 77th pick (trading No. 118 to get there) to draft Metcalf, it was notable from a Seahawks draft history perspective. Since the arrival of Carroll and general manager John Schneider, they had used only three top-100 picks on wideouts previously. All of them were of the smaller, quicker variety: Golden Tate, Paul Richardson and Lockett.

The Seahawks have drafted tall receivers and thicker-framed ones, too. Darboh, Moore and Jennings sort of fit that mold, although none are the height-weight-speed specimens that Metcalf is. The only receiver taller than the 6-3 Metcalf whom the Carroll-Schneider Seahawks have drafted was fourth-rounder Kris Durham back in 2011.

Carroll was asked a few weeks back what most excited him about Metcalf in his first glance at him in the team’s rookie minicamp.

“Well, it’s almost like, what [isn’t exciting], you know?” Carroll said. “I mean, he’s big and he’s fast. He’s got really good feet, you know, and his catching range was exhibited today for a start. And you know, we’ve got to figure it out, figure out where it is, maybe even more unique than we thought coming in. So we just develop it as we go. But big and really fast and [his] catching range was really obvious today.”

You could argue that the Seahawks and New England Patriots, two teams that embraced collecting and employing smaller and quicker receivers better than almost any team in recent years, went the most against the grain with their WR draft picks this year. The Patriots drafted 6-2, 228-pound N’Keal Harry at the end of Round 1, and not only was it the first first-round receiver Bill Belichick has drafted in New England, but Harry also was one of the bigger receivers he’s ever taken with a pick in the first few rounds.

Look for Seattle to remake its offense slightly to give Metcalf a chance to flash his athleticism and vertical ability immediately. There’s little need to try to make him an all-around threat in Year 1 when he does a few things very well right now. If Metcalf remains healthy — a fairly big question still — he could be one of the select rookie wideouts who is ready to produce immediately.

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