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2019 NFL Draft: D.K. Metcalf scheme fit is specific, for now

Metcalf doesn’t have a complete route tree, but he has physical tools you can’t teach.

The Buffalo Bills have added wide receivers this offseason. For a while, it seemed like they would also be very interested in Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. After his (partly) stellar Combine performance, he was frequently mocked to the Bills at nine overall.

But Metcalf wasn’t asked to be a complete receiver in college. His scheme fit, for now, is limited. His physical traits are only part of the equation (and are discussed in-depth here). Let’s dive into the rest.

Team fit

Metcalf doesn’t check a lot of the boxes that the Bills look for. He isn’t experienced, having left Ole Miss after his redshirt sophomore season. He’s dealt with foot and neck injuries, ending two of his college seasons. He’s a boom or bust prospect, which Buffalo has largely avoided outside of Josh Allen a year ago.

He does, however, come from a line of high-level football players. His dad played elite college football, his grandfather was an NFL running back, and his uncle Eric was a Pro Bowler.

Compare him to the last few first rounders from Buffalo: Tre’Davious White was an experienced player who stayed healthy and was consistent in college. Tremaine Edmunds was really young but came from a line of NFLers, stayed healthy, and is consistent. Josh Allen is boom or bust and dealt with injuries, but played in the Senior Bowl (as did White) and was experienced.

Scheme fit

Metcalf is a home run threat every time he in on the field. With elite speed, he was able to gain separation and with his strength, he was able to get off the line quickly. His physical tools masked underlying problems in his game.

He’s not great at selling fakes and his route tree isn’t fully developed, as Stephen White pointed out earlier this offseason:

“While we are on the subject of routes, Metcalf also ran a limited route tree just like [teammate A.J.] Brown. They had Metcalf running a gang of 5-yard stops, even though they hardly threw the ball to him on those plays. They also had him running a bunch of go routes like he was at a track meet every week, and yet he didn’t get many balls thrown his way on those plays, either. He did run a few slants and crossing routes to boot, but that’s about it when it comes to route diversity in the games that I watched.”

Buffalo just signed a track meet receiver in John Brown, but they don’t have a physical specimen on par with Metcalf. If the plan is to help Metcalf develop his footwork, route tree, and skills as a receiver in year one while providing red zone physicality, Buffalo is set up for that kind of wait schematically.

In the NFL, Metcalf isn’t going to be as physically superior to the competition, but reports are that he’s willing and able to put in the work to be a solid player in the NFL. He’ll need to continue honing his craft.

NFL comparisons

Metcalf is 6’3”, 228 pounds with 34 7/8-inch arms and nearly 10-inch hands. He ran a blistering 4.33 forty-yard dash and put up 27 reps on the bench press. A 7.38 three-cone drill and 4.5 20-yard shuttle show how far his footwork needs to come.

Though he told Sports Illustrated that he models his game after Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson, Metcalf is frequently compared to NFL flame-out Jon Baldwin, a first-round pick who was out of the league in a few years.

Baldwin was 6’4” and 228 pounds at his Combine, with 33 5/8-inch arms and 10-inch hands. His footwork was also suspect entering the NFL, and he was over 7 seconds on his three-cone drill, too, but he ran a 4.5 forty and put up 20 bench reps, normally a good number for a receiver until you compare it to Metcalf. Baldwin flamed out of the NFL, getting in fights as a rookie and ultimately being traded or released by three teams in a few seasons.

Another comparison is Kevin White. The 6’3” White ran a 4.35 forty-yard dash and put up 23 reps on the bench press, but weighed in at only 215 pounds. His three-cone drill was just under 7 seconds, He was drafted seventh overall by the Chicago Bears, but shin surgery ended his rookie season before it began and the same injury had him under the knife again after just four games in his sophomore season. He was hurt in the season opener in his third season, breaking his shoulder.

While those are two negative outcomes, Vincent Jackson might be a positive comparison. Jackson is big-bodied, physical receiver with a 4.46 in the 40. His physicality was a big part of his game, with 23 reps on the bench press showing his strength and weighing in at 241 pounds pre-draft. He had a successful career, topping 1000 yards six times and heading to the Pro Bowl three times.

Sample play: Gun Trips Left 81 Max Comeback Z Stutter Lucky

By Dan Lavoie

This play call, with a deep drop for the QB, would place Metcalf as the isolated “X” receiver on the right side of the formation. (He’s marked with his college number 14.) Two receivers and a tight end would be positioned to the left side. The tight end and running back block then release into short routes.

For Metcalf and the other outside receiver, the route call is a comeback pattern (something Metcalf is very familiar with) with a sight adjustment to a fade route depending on how the cornerback plays the matchup.

The primary goal of this play is hitting a deep comeback. The QB should watch the safety rotation, then hit the comeback route that will be more open. Metcalf’s speed and strength are maximized in this type of isolation setting. If the cornerback tries a jam, he can break out and catch the ball at the sideline. If the corner respects his speed, he has an open comeback route.

Against Cover-two, the QB is supposed to progress between his slot receiver, tight end, and running back. But even if Josh Allen misreads the play and tries the comeback anyway, Metcalf has the physical talent to come down with a jump ball in the honey hole between the corner and the safety.

Metcalf has a high ceiling, but major question marks in his game are likely to keep him out of the top 10 picks. For Buffalo, he could be a target if the team trades down from ninth overall or if he falls into the high teens as a trade up option.