Who's to blame for D.K. Metcalf's draft fall? Us and a social media hype machine

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – If we ever need to be reminded that NFL draft slides are rough and this live televised event is real life mixed in with entertainment (sometimes unmercifully), we only need to cue up the Seattle Seahawks’ call after selecting Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf with the last pick in the second round.

The same Metcalf who became the flashiest of advertisements for the NFL’s scouting combine in February, when he ran a scorching 4.33 40-yard dash after smashing the internet with a shirtless weight room photo that probably threatened some marriages. That hype machine loved Metcalf, predicting him as a potential top-10 pick and all but guaranteeing he would be one of the most promoted players leading into this draft.

D.K. Metcalf was a star at the NFL scouting combine in February. That didn't carryover for the rest of the draft process. Seattle did, however, select him as the last pick in the second round on Friday night. (AP)
D.K. Metcalf was a star at the NFL scouting combine in February. That didn't carryover for the rest of the draft process. Seattle did, however, select him as the last pick in the second round on Friday night. (AP)
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While social media and 40-yard dash times can create excitement, boring old film of a player’s collegiate production is often what creates a high first-round pick. And that part of the process was hard on Metcalf’s stock. That’s how one of the hottest stars of the combine suffered through a cooler draft reception, leaving him to be the last player in the NFL’s green room selected. That is, if Metcalf was still there when it happened. He wasn’t, choosing to spend Friday’s proceedings at his mother’s house after going unselected in the first round.

We figured that out when the Seahawks posted an emotional call that appeared to leave both Metcalf and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll with some tears flowing.

Metcalf started off sounding composed if not a little angry when he answered his phone. But when general manager John Schneider uttered the only words that mattered – “Hey man, get fired up. We’re gonna make you a Seahawk, OK?” – the emotional levy broke. Before you knew it, Metcalf was sobbing and Schneider was handing the phone off to Carroll. And then Carroll appeared to choke up, saying “We’ll both cry together then, all right?”

It’s one of those draft calls that’s both touching and rough because it makes you realize that the titillating TV drama of a highly acclaimed draft pick falling also happens to be torture to the player you’re watching. It’s why the league stopped showing players in the green room and why those who don’t get picked in Day 1 sometimes don’t make appearances on Day 2.

Sometimes this isn’t light reality TV. Sometimes it’s a car accident. And we’re all staring at the occupants while they try to sort out what happened. A stress that was sharply apparent in the Metcalf call. Most especially when he gave away what he’d been going through.

“Why y’all wait this long, man, damn,” Metcalf said as he cried.

Clearly, it was a happy moment. Carroll handled the call like a seasoned pro and surely Seattle is excited to have gotten Metcalf where it did. On the flip side, it’s apparent the NFL screwed up the Metcalf invite to the draft. The goal of the invites is to get as many of the first-round stars as possible to the event, while trying hard to make sure nobody lingers too long. The league failed with Metcalf.

A hopeful first-round pick falling all the way to 64th means the league had some bad information from teams. That’s odd because it was apparent in the past several weeks that Metcalf was down on wide receiver boards and seemed more like a second-round pick. So, yeah, the NFL might want to reconsider how it gets info on some of these players so that a prospect isn’t one pick from being in the third round.

All of which leads us back to Metcalf. He seems like an ideal fit for what the Seattle scheme needs: a vertical threat to complement a run-oriented offense. But that still doesn’t answer the question.

What happened here?

Well, we happened. All of us, really. The media happened. We got amped up on a player again at the combine despite a litany of yellow flags that were clearly sliding him down boards in the ensuing weeks and months. Despite constantly admitting that we overhype some guys, we do it annually because we can’t seem to help ourselves. But we occasionally have help, too. In the form of, say, Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Who can forget Gruden’s love letter to Metcalf in February?

“We had a guy walk in our room last night, a receiver out of Ole Miss,” Gruden said. “His name is Metcalf, and he looked like Jim Brown. I mean he’s the biggest wide out I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘Who’s tackling this guy?’”

In hindsight, Gruden should have been asking was “Who’s taking this guy?”

That was surely the question on everyone’s mind late Friday, as Metcalf tumbled to the final selection in the second round, where Seattle traded up to take him. By then, Metcalf was long gone from the green room. And judging from the start of his call with Seattle, probably a little pissed off at the developments.

Which is fair. Being doubted is one of the worst feelings an NFL prospect can feel. And nothing showcases doubt more than being rejected 63 times in a row. But the league is what it is when it comes to assessments. And few hid their fears about Metcalf over the past month. There was talk of medical red flags, concerns over agility, not to mention the paramount discussion of athleticism vs production. These are all clear signs that a player has some uncertain stock. And some personnel men or coaches flat-out said they weren’t sure where Metcalf could land, including the distinction between rounds.

Even with all of that said, the fall raised eyebrows. So much so, one executive even took the time to text on Friday night as Metcalf was plummeting.

“I think someone is going to get great value now,” the executive said. “Physical freak who is a GREAT kid.”

Asked why Metcalf was dropping, the executive said: “Part of it is there have been safer receivers on the board.”

A stunning eight of those apparently “safer” receiver picks went ahead of Metcalf. Including a handful of names that most definitely weren’t supposed to be ahead of Metcalf on some receiver boards. But that’s how this all works. There’s hype and there is tape. And sometimes, with some players, those two things don’t share a handshake when it comes to a particular player.

That can lead to a rough day and a rough phone call – even when the outcome is a happy one. What it should lead to is a reminder next February that we’re going to get way ahead of ourselves on someone. But that underneath the hype is someone’s life. And what comes next can be as brutal as it is titillating.

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