“The kid has always been strong,” said Terrence, now 41, and that’s the shortest explanation of the gradual way DK went from scrawny kid to 21-year-old physical specimen whose viral photograph — a bulging physique alongside claims of 1.6 percent body fat — made him a superstar earlier this year on social media and at the NFL combine.
Then, much less gradually, reality struck and DK was asking his dad why the NFL could be so cruel. Terrence had answers for that, too, and now the young wide receiver — at 6-feet-3 and 230 pounds, he’s still almost 100 pounds lighter than his father — has reached one destination but is nonetheless starting a new journey. For one, he wants to prove he’s more than a viral moment or a bodybuilder look-alike; he more wants to prove the Seattle Seahawks right for having drafted him after a fall almost as astonishing as his rise.
With NFL training camps beginning this week and Metcalf’s rookie season officially beginning, that journey begins now.
“I’m going to be me. I’m not going to be anybody else,” he said, and while comparisons to his dad ended long ago, he’s more specifically talking about Doug Baldwin and the Seattle wideouts who helped the Seahawks reach back-to-back Super Bowls earlier this decade.
Though comparisons are inevitable, is Metcalf truly like anyone else? His size and strength are uncanny, particularly among NFL receivers. His speed — Metcalf ran the 40-yard dash in a jaw-dropping 4.33 seconds in early March — is more comparable to DeSean Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr. than to the game’s larger receivers, such as Mike Evans and A.J. Green.
That intriguing mix of skills was enough to send Metcalf to the University of Mississippi, but do they make him an NFL curiosity or a future star? For now, it’s impossible to know.
At Ole Miss, a broken foot shortened his true freshman season to two games (he played in 12 contests as a redshirt freshman the following season), and a neck injury caused him to miss all but seven games in 2018. Questions would emerge not just about his durability but his technique: While Metcalf was a dangerous downfield threat, his discipline as a route-runner was largely untested, even in the mighty Southeastern Conference.
So he was big and fast, two of the attributes Terrence Metcalf believes are necessary in the construction of a pro football player. But questions about his agility would cause hesitation within NFL front offices.
Sure, the picture that circulated in February was impressive: Metcalf and several other prospects flexing, Metcalf’s muscles swollen and rippling after a few weeks at a pre-draft training complex in Arizona. And sure, at the combine Metcalf was fast and powerful as always, the impressive 40-yard dash paired with 27 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press — a good performance for a linebacker and otherworldly for a receiver.
But it was his three-cone drill, which league evaluators rely on as a measure of lateral quickness, that caused anxiety. Metcalf’s time was third-worst among the 48 receivers invited to the combine, and almost overnight he went from being discussed as a possible top-10 pick — and potentially the first receiver selected — to, as Bleacher Report called him, a “flop waiting to happen.”
“I’m not a guy who can run 20 yards down the field and break down [on a route] like a 5-10 guy,” Metcalf would say later.
The NFL nonetheless invited him to the draft in Nashville, and there he sat as team after team passed him over. Eight receivers were selected before him, and after the opening round Metcalf returned to Mississippi to watch the proceedings in private.
The second round was nearly finished when Metcalf’s phone rang, and on the other end was the Seahawks, who had traded back into the round. Metcalf had barely met with Seattle at the combine, he said, but he had left an impression: When he walked shirtless into a meeting with Coach Pete Carroll — a dare from a Seahawks scout — the 67-year-old peeled off his shirt, too. The kid’s confidence, along with his potential, had evidently been enough to answer Seattle’s questions about whether Metcalf was capable of winning more than just fly routes and footraces.
“The offense [at Mississippi] wasn’t designed where they had to do that kind of stuff,” Carroll would tell reporters, referring to the more complex patterns NFL receivers are expected to run. “ … So there’s development to be had here.”
When General Manager John Schneider informed Metcalf he would be selected with the 64th pick, the wide receiver burst into tears. Carroll took the phone a moment later, and Metcalf had a question: “Why’d y’all wait so long, man?”
Emotional as the previous three months had been, Terrence Metcalf said the experience was a good lesson for his son.
“Just because people are hyping you up, it doesn’t mean it’ll be the outcome that they say,” said the elder Metcalf, now an assistant coach at a small college in Mississippi.
By June, Metcalf had reported to Seattle and seemed to understand when teammates needled him about his viral photograph. He remained committed to strength training and conditioning, though during minicamp his body fat had increased to 4 percent. Metcalf would say he was eager to prove himself as a player who can endure, who can adjust, who can perhaps play at least as long as his dad.
“If DeKaylin can be better than I was, man, I’d thank God for that,” Terrence Metcalf said, using his son’s unabbreviated name, and if he does last longer than his father’s seven seasons, it might be because Seattle — which, from Baldwin to Jermaine Kearse to Golden Tate, has never given quarterback Russell Wilson a downfield threat quite like Metcalf — tends to give players the time and freedom to grow.
“The perfect landing position for me in a football aspect and philosophy aspect,” DK Metcalf said, and perhaps the roller-coaster experience was indeed worth it, considering this is where his father’s formula and his own work ethic led him. “When you step on the field, just be all-in and committed. That’s what my dad taught me.”
On this day, Metcalf was speaking between bites of a Caesar salad topped with an over-easy egg. He would, as always, skip dessert.