At the EXOS training facility in Phoenix, the wide receivers who worked together gave it a name: Big Bench Saturday. During eight weeks of preparation for the 2019 NFL draft, they would start the weekend by loading plates on bars for high-volume sets of bench presses. The workouts left their muscles bulging and swollen. In celebratory exuberance, they removed their shirts and posed like bodybuilders in front of mirrors.

DK Metcalf may have been a sheepish participant in the post-workout pose. “He’s not even that kid that’s going to do that, go flex on everybody,” said Nic Hill, the EXOS performance specialist who oversaw the training. After one Big Bench Saturday, somebody took a picture. It ended up on the Internet.

And that is how the world outside of SEC football aficionados was introduced to DeKaylin Zecharius Metcalf: towering over fellow NFL-caliber players, a slight grin on his face, musculature borrowed from the Marvel universe.

“I’ve worked with a lot of athletes,” said Hill, a former collegiate receiver who trains NFL players and draft prospects. “Every once in a while, you get a specimen that just comes in and you go, ‘This kid is just something different.’ ”

Metcalf’s physique made him impossible to miss — and then the entire NFL, including the team that eventually drafted him, missed him. In his second season with the Seattle Seahawks, Metcalf has become, at 22, one of the best wide receivers and most thrilling players in the NFL. He has helped fuel quarterback Russell Wilson’s MVP campaign while on a near-weekly basis delivering performances and plays that have shaped the season.

In Week 3, Metcalf let a Dallas Cowboys defender poke the ball loose as he loafed into the end zone — then later caught the game-winning touchdown. In Week 7, he chased down Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker’s interception return after an electric, full-field sprint. On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, he caught 12 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs.

Metcalf’s emergence has created bewilderment among fans and forced an uncomfortable reckoning in front offices. NFL teams took 63 players — including eight wide receivers — before the Seahawks gleefully plucked Metcalf with the final pick of the second round. How could such an obvious star fall so far?

Metcalf is an athletic outlier even among a league of athletic outliers. He stands 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds with a 6-11 wingspan. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds and benched 225 pounds 27 times at the combine. NFL players are not like the rest of us, and Metcalf is not like the rest of NFL players.

“What we were hoping we’d get, he’s everything we wanted,” said Seahawks wide receivers coach Nate Carroll, the son of head coach Pete Carroll. “He’s huge. He’s physically imposing. It’s crazy I get to work with him every day, a guy of his ability.”

That is Metcalf: a player who inspires awe even among those inured to the outlandish physical prowess of NFL players. And yet his NFL career started with an unexpected delay.

‘We were rejoicing’

On the first night of the 2019 draft, Metcalf gathered at a table of family and friends in Nashville and waited to hear his name. He expected he would find out his new team, greet Commissioner Roger Goodell and celebrate. As the night wore on, Metcalf stayed seated, looking around as phones at other tables rang instead of his. His face remained placid. When the night ended and his name had still not been called, Metcalf stood and thanked everyone at the table for coming.

“He handled it just incredibly well,” said Chris Cutcliffe, his receivers coach at Oxford High in Mississippi, who attended the draft with Metcalf. “He really didn’t let it rattle him.”

He had to wait again the next day. In a widely seen video, Seahawks General Manager John Schneider and Pete Carroll called Metcalf, who had concealed his emotions for two days. When told he would be a Seahawk, Metcalf burst out crying. Eventually, he yelled, “Why y’all wait this long, man?”

The question lingers as one of the NFL’s great mysteries. The answer is multifaceted, partly straightforward and partly, perhaps, a function of collective overthinking.

“He is definitely one of the most overanalyzed people I’ve ever seen,” Nate Carroll said.

The overriding reason Metcalf fell is health. In the seventh game of his redshirt sophomore season, his final year at the University of Mississippi, he suffered a cervical fracture: a broken bone in his neck. His career was threatened.

Metcalf found a surgeon, Kevin Foley, who performed surgery that saved his career — “a miracle,” Metcalf called it in January. By the time of the draft, Metcalf had been fully cleared for football and had proved his fitness at the combine. Today, he said, his neck is normal and requires no extra maintenance.

Still, the words “neck” and “injury” convinced some teams to steer clear. A foot injury during his freshman season also meant Metcalf played only 21 college games, a red flag for durability.

For some teams, Metcalf raised other, smaller warnings. He showed inconsistency with drops. Mississippi asked him almost exclusively to run “9 routes” — a long pattern straight down the field — which made some teams wonder about his route-running. Metcalf slipped during his three-cone agility test at the combine, which led to a subpar time and reinforced questions about his ability to change direction.

The league also may have been fighting the last — or wrong — war. NFL general managers have learned their lesson over the years after being infatuated with athletic marvels who produced stunning combine numbers. But they applied the lesson incorrectly with Metcalf.

“You see guys that are massive, and they look like physical freaks,” Hill said. “That’s great, but we’re not in a bodybuilder competition. I think, for whatever strange reason, there’s been a lot of guys that have been taken high and tested great and they busted in the league. I think that does sit in the back of their minds for a lot of GMs.”

This week, Nate Carroll was asked whether teams could have overlooked Metcalf because of that paradox — his workouts were so good that he reminded them of other combine stars who busted. Carroll took pains to note that he respected NFL general managers and believed in their competence.

“But the paradox word makes a lot of sense to me,” he said. “Sometimes you can latch on to one detail here or there.”

The Seahawks focused instead on Metcalf’s strengths, which were more obvious. They believed he might be a generational wide receiver, a player who could be their version of Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones — a behemoth whose size makes him impossible to cover but who still runs like a smaller receiver.

Metcalf’s character had never been considered anything but a positive. His father, Terrence, played in the NFL as a Chicago Bears offensive lineman and instilled in him a relentless drive. “He was always working and getting better,” said Johnny Hill, Metcalf’s high school head coach. “A lot of kids won’t do that, especially great athletes, because they can coast by and still be the best thing you got out there.”

Even the Seahawks passed up Metcalf on draft day — twice. Seattle took defensive end L.J. Collier with the 29th pick and safety Marquise Blair at No. 47. As the second round unfolded, wide receivers started coming off the board but not Metcalf.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who rated Metcalf 16th overall and second among wideouts.

The Seahawks did not miss Metcalf a third time.

“It was a surreal feeling when we were able to draft him,” Nate Carroll said. “I felt like I was on a different planet, just so excited. We were rejoicing.”

‘A blessing in disguise’

Looking back, Metcalf views his draft-day fall as a godsend. He landed with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Wilson, one ideally suited to throw deep balls he can run under or leap and grab. He adores the Seahawks organization. On a deeper level, his draft position provided a mission.

“I wasn’t supposed to go in the first round for a reason, probably because I wasn’t going to work as hard if I got drafted in the first round or early in the second round,” Metcalf said. “It allowed me to come in here with a chip on my shoulder and just to realize what it felt like to be an underdog in the NFL. I don’t think it would have affected my approach to the game but probably my approach to life. I probably would have taken this opportunity for granted. It was just a blessing in disguise. God put me in this position. He made me wait until the 64th pick, just to be placed in this organization.”

Wilson called Metcalf on FaceTime the day the Seahawks chose him. The first thing Metcalf asked was, “When we getting to work?”

In Metcalf, Wilson has found a wide receiver with the potential to form an all-time duo, and they have grown so close that Wilson ­considers him family. During a visit to Wilson’s house this year, Metcalf held Wilson’s newborn son, Win, for more than an hour. Over the summer, they trained together for a month in Mexico and outside San Diego.

“He’s got the work ethic of greats like Jerry Rice,” Wilson said. “I remember when I was in college and high school, I was watching cut-ups of Jerry Rice and how he practiced — not just the game part, but how he practiced. I think that’s how DK is. … If you ask me what he won’t be able to do and what he can do, he’ll be able to do it all. I think he’ll break records. I think he’ll do all that. To have that quarterback-receiver tandem is really special.”

Metcalf still has another level to reach. Nate Carroll compared the way Metcalf is officiated to how Shaquille O’Neal was treated in basketball. Because Metcalf is so big and so strong, defenders’ contact is less likely to affect him, so officials are less likely to call fouls committed against him. Metcalf is learning how to play through contact.

His capacity for improvement lies in his instincts. On Sunday night two weeks ago, Cutcliffe’s phone started blowing up with messages about Metcalf’s chase-down of Baker. Some of the messages were from Oxford High assistants who had seen it happen before, when Metcalf bolted across the field to deliver a crucial block on a screen play that went for a touchdown in the state championship game during his senior season. Both plays required Metcalf’s rare athleticism and hustle but also his athletic intelligence. On the interception, Cutcliffe pointed out, Metcalf transitioned from running his route to a dead sprint without hesitation.

“Part of it is kind of football savvy, for lack of a better word,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s a unique talent.”

At the start of his pro career, Metcalf was known for his body. But he has become a star because of what he does on the field. Recently, Seattle coaches have spoken with him about the recognition about to come his way.

“They told me, ‘You’re going to start getting a lot of accolades, but don’t change who you are,’ ” Metcalf said. “For them to think of me as a humble kid, it really means a lot to me. That’s one of my main goals, to never change, no matter how big or if I fall off tomorrow. Just never change who I am.”