Mike Tanier's Combine Notebook, Day 2: D.K. Metcalf and the Superhero Receivers

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 3, 2019

Mike Tanier's Combine Notebook, Day 2: D.K. Metcalf and the Superhero Receivers

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    D.K. Metcalf out of Ole Miss was in the spotlight Saturday.
    D.K. Metcalf out of Ole Miss was in the spotlight Saturday.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    D.K. Metcalf made a huge impression on coach Jon Gruden during his meeting with the Raiders.

    "He looked like Jim Brown," Gruden said. "He's the biggest wideout I ever saw."

    Metcalf made an even bigger impression on NFL coaches and scouts with one of the most extraordinary combine workouts in recent memory on Saturday. But what's most remarkable is that Metcalf is just one of a whole legion of super-receivers.

    This edition tells you who's who among Saturday's workout standouts, plus:

    • We dive deep into the quarterback throwing sessions so you don't have to. (Trust us, you don't want to.)
    • Meet a sleeper tight end from a family of NCAA athletes. (No, not Irv Smith Jr.; we said a sleeper tight end.)
    • Find out which of the old-guard NFL head coaches is most likely to teach the Mini McVays some new tricks.

    And much, much more!   

When the Super-Receivers Assemble, D.K. Metcalf Leads the Way

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    There's a scene near the end of Avengers: Infinity War in which the armies of Wakanda race out to battle Thanos' swarming minions. Black Panther and Captain America, with their superpowers and whatnot, instantly race well ahead of the rest of the warriors.

    Watch the scene closely, and the seams in the CGI are apparent: Cap and Black Panther look like special effects, not realistic humans, as their mighty legs pump abnormally fast and their strides cover more ground than physically possible.

    That's how D.K. Metcalf looked when he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at 6'3", 228 pounds. We've all seen fast 40s before. This looked like Hollywood movie magic.

    Some folks had the same feeling when shirtless photos of Metcalf appeared on Twitter a few weeks ago. They had to be Photoshopped, right?

    "There's no Photoshop in that picture," Metcalf said on Friday. "I know the work I put in, so I'm not worried about what other people are gonna say."

    As if to emphasize his point Friday, Metcalf put up 27 reps in his bench-press session: a fine number for a 280-pound defender, an outlandish one for a receiver.

    If you think Metcalf is just some Instagram model and workout warrior, you're wrong. He is an excellent football player as well. He has great hands, is impossible to jam on the line, knows how to fake out a defender and gets the job done as a blocker.

    Metcalf's father, Terrence, was an offensive lineman for Ole Miss and for the Chicago Bears and Terrance wasn't an athletic marvel quite like D.K. But Terrence shaped his son into both a student of the game and someone willing to pay the price in the workout facility.

    "It's like having a cheat sheet on life," D.K. said of his father's influence. "He taught me that your hard work is always going to get noticed somewhere. If it's not getting noticed early, somebody's going to notice along the line."

    Metcalf may have ran and lifted his way to a top-10 pick in April's draft this week. But he's just one of several receivers whose workouts and measurements were almost as mind-boggling and whose tape is equally good. More on them in the next segment.

    As for Metcalf, it's hard to find many weaknesses in his game. But when he was asked what the hardest food to give up as he rebuilt his body to Marvel movie standards was, he gave a surprising answer.

    "Strawberry milk," he said.

    The guy who looks like he could punch an asteroid into the sun has a weakness for strawberry milk?

    Are we sure he's not a comic book superhero?

Super-Receiver Spotlight: Hakeem Butler, Iowa State

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Who He Is

    The Groot of our Legion of Super-Receivers. Hakeem Butler can extend his tree-branch arms to make impossible-looking catches and twist his trunk to haul in back-shoulder catches. Unfortunately, catchable passes sometimes bounce right off him.


    The Numbers

    Butler measured in at 6'5" and 227 pounds, with 35¼-inch arms and 10¾-inch hands. He ran a 4.48-second 40. While 18 reps on the bench don't sound that impressive compared with the numbers put up by D.K. Metcalf and others this week, a) benching weights with 35¼-inch arms is like trying to pull a piano on a rope up the side of a six-story building, and b) no one usually cares how much weight wide receivers can bench.


    What He Said

    On what sets him apart from the other superhuman receivers in this class: "I'm 6'6", first of all. Nobody here is 6'6". I'm the biggest." Yes, he's only 6'5". Feel free to argue with him next time you meet him.

    On his dropped passes: "I feel I do a great job catching the ball. I had some drops during the season, of course. Every receiver does. It's a concentration thing. I know what I have to fix, and I fixed it."

    On the buzz surrounding him: "You think there's been a lot of buzz about me? I disagree with that. I don't think there's been enough buzz. But we're gonna fix that soon." Done and done.


    Bottom Line

    Butler got upstaged by Metcalf, but he is an imposing presence and an impressive interview. Teams are going to like his personality almost as much as his acrobatic catches. If he really has fixed the drops, he could be the best receiver in this class and have a Plaxico Burress-level impact in the NFL.

Super-Receiver Spotlight: A.J. Brown, Ole Miss

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Who He Is

    He's bigger, faster and stronger, too; he's the No. 1 member of the D.K. Crew!

    A.J. Brown is one of the dudes posing with D.K. Metcalf in that becoming-legendary shirtless photo. He's also a rugged all-purpose receiver who did most of his best work from the slot but took over as the Rebels' top receiving option when Metcalf suffered a neck injury in 2018.


    The Numbers

    Brown ran a 4.49-second 40 at 6'0" and 226 pounds. Those numbers only look ordinary because of all the extraordinary numbers we have thrown at you from other receivers.


    What He Said

    On looking like an action figure: "Honestly, that's just genetics. It's not like we're putting in extra work to do this, like in the weight room. Just doing what was required."

    On the secret to healthy weight gain? "Just eating better. That's all. Everybody wants to know how to do it. Just eat better."

    (Sportswriter jots down a note to start eating better.)

    (Sportswriter spills mac and cheese on note.)


    Bottom Line

    Brown is much more than Bucky to Metcalf's Captain America. He's a polished all-purpose receiver (much more polished than Metcalf), and his ability to adjust to bad balls and make difficult catches showed up both on game tape and in Saturday's quarterback drills.

    The only thing that could keep Brown from getting drafted in the first round is that this class is so deep in unusually gifted wide receivers.

    And just wait until tomorrow, when we meet the edge-rushers. 

Other Super-Receivers

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    Wide receiver N'Keal Harry
    Wide receiver N'Keal HarryAssociated Press

    N'Keal Harry, Arizona State

    Harry tied D.K. Metcalf with 27 bench-press reps. But strength was never an issue for Harry. He's a rugged possession receiver who works the middle of the field extremely well.

    Pure speed was more of a concern. But Harry's 4.53-second 40, a fine result for a 6'2", 228-pound receiver, should allay any fears that he will have trouble getting separation at the NFL level.


    Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, Ohio State

    Buckeye twin powers: Activate! Campbell tied for the fastest 40-yard dash among receivers at 4.31 seconds, then followed it up with an impressive performance during quarterback passing drills. McLaurin clocked in at 4.35 seconds. That time, a superlative Senior Bowl week and an A-plus-plus off-field reputation could allow McLaurin to join Campbell as a Day 2 draft selection.


    Noah Fant, Iowa

    Fant is actually a tight end. But he ran a 4.50-second 40 at 6'4" and 249 pounds, which is pretty darn supernatural. Fant's workouts could catapult him into the top half of the first round.

Notes from the Quarterback Passing Session

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    Quarterback Dwayne Haskins
    Quarterback Dwayne HaskinsAssociated Press

    Each year, the NFL allows a select handful of reporters (whoever responds to the email on time) to watch, in person, one of the quarterback passing sessions at the combine. I was part of that exclusive group this year. Here are my notes on most of the big-name quarterbacks who threw on Saturday.

    Warning: What I saw wasn't pretty.

    Daniel Jones (Duke) had the best overall session. He was mechanically smooth and sound, his ball placement was very good, and he demonstrated plenty of arm strength on deeper throws.

    Ryan Finley (North Carolina State) may have helped himself more than any other quarterback in the session. His well-placed throws on deep fly and post-corner routes were some of the highlights of a mostly dreary set of drills.

    It should be noted that Finley is exactly the type of tall pocket passer who looks great against air with no pass-rushers to worry about.

    Drew Lock (Missouri) was erratic. His arm strength is obvious, but his delivery is inconsistent (he three-quarter arms and even sidearms some throws), leading to scattershot placement.

    Jake Browning (Washington) helped himself a little bit by avoiding any "whoops" or "OMG" moments. If you are looking for a clean delivery instead of greatness and Finley doesn't do it for you for some reason, Browning's your guy.

    Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) had a rough session but recovered late. His slants were perfectly placed and had zip, and he fired off some accurate post-corner throws in the final drill, but many of his deep balls hung and tailed, and he missed a few receivers by miles, even on relatively easy routes.

    Haskins had a chance to establish himself as the top quarterback in this class with an impressive session today. Chalk this up as a missed opportunity.

    Will Grier (West Virginia) has strange footwork, an extra-wide stance and a hitch when opening up to throw to the sidelines. He struggled throughout the session.

    Trace McSorley (Penn State) is the kind of small, mobile pepperpot who can't show off what he does best in drills that reward pinpoint throws. McSorley sprayed the ball on shorter passes and lacked the arm strength to drive the ball downfield on the fly and post-corner drills.

    Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) never throws a ball the same way twice. Sometimes he looks like a baseball pitcher or shot-putter moonlighting at quarterback. When his mechanics were smooth, he zipped on-target throws. But his mechanics were rarely smooth.


    Bottom Line

    This was a great session for Kyler Murray to skip. Haskins raised more questions than he answered, Lock didn't stand out, and Jones only confirmed that he's Mr. Safe Pick, which is the opposite of Murray.

    Finley and Browning are worth a second look at the film as Day 3 picks (early, in Finley's case).

    Jackson would be a fun quarterback to stash on the scout team; he's so big and fast that he could play both the opposing quarterback and Jadeveon Clowney in drills while coaches start from scratch on his delivery.

    McSorley is a feisty try-hard to bring to camp on a flier. Grier is an acquired taste.


    Secret Star of the Session

    Receiver Mecole Harmon (Georgia), fresh off a 4.33-second 40 and some impressive drill work, did an excellent job chasing down and hauling in off-target throws throughout the session, ending the day by twisting and pit-patting his feet inbounds after catching one of Jackson's random heaves. 

Draft Crush Spotlight: Jace Sternberger, Tight End, Texas A&M

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Who He Is

    Jace Sternberger was a JUCO tight end who transferred away from Kansas in 2017 to get away from a sagging program that didn't use tight ends in the passing game. He then committed to Texas A&M last year after Jimbo Fisher took the head coaching job. Sternberger exploded with 48 catches for 832 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns.

    Sternberger's father was a college football player; his mother was a two-time All-American basketball player at Southwestern Oklahoma State. Sternberger played football and basketball and ran track in high school, and the multi-athleticism shows on tape: He's quick, runs slippery routes, generates yards after contact and is a feisty blocker in the open field.


    The Numbers

    Sternberger measured in at 6'4", 251 pounds, with 9¾-inch hands. He performed 17 reps on the bench press. His 40 time of 4.75 seconds may send scouts back to the tape, where they will find that he is quicker-than-fast and very capable of getting open.


    What He Said

    About the perception that he's an inferior blocker: "I think people who say that, they might have only watched a few plays of me. I honestly believe week in and week out, I got better.”

    About being raised by a pair of former college athletes: "We were a very athletic household. It was very competitive. … Dad definitely gave me pointers on the field. Mom was just being a mom; she really wasn't too into it. But when it came to basketball, she taught me everything I know."


    Bottom Line

    This is a deep tight end class, and Sternberger's ordinary workout results could leave him lost in the shuffle. Once Iowa's Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. are off the board, Sternberger will be a Day 2 bargain as a multidimensional offensive weapon.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Matt LaFleur, Packers

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers


    Sean McVay Number: 2

    LaFleur coached alongside McVay on Mike Shanahan's Washington staff from 2010-2013. Technically, that makes McVay and LaFleur Shana-Clones, as is 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who (per sources) literally contains some Mike Shanahan DNA. LaFleur also served as McVay's offensive coordinator with the Rams during the 2017 season.

    Fashion Sense: Above average

    LaFleur appeared at his combine press conference wearing the Substitute History Teacher Who Plays Keyboard on the Weekends ensemble: gray fleece jacket (collar popped) over a checkered shirt, well-groomed beard with some distinguished gray in the whiskers.

    Wait: distinguished gray in the whiskers? GRAY!? How old is this guy? He's 39? Phew. If he were 40, they would have to kick him out of the boy band.


    How He Tackled His Team's Toughest Issues

    LaFleur on how the Packers offense will be different this year:

    "I think what we want to do is we really want to assemble our offense through the running game. I think it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback, and if we can stay balanced on first and second down, I think that's an advantage for the offense. … We want to have plays that start out looking the same that are different."

    That should be much better than Mike McCarthy's offense, which had plays that started out looking the same because so many of them were, in fact, exactly the same.

    Interestingly, no one asked LaFleur an Aaron Rodgers question. My theory is that the Packers media is afraid to say anything skeptical about Rodgers, or say the name Rodgers, or even think ill of Rodgers for too long, lest he banish them to the endless cornfield with just the blink of an eye.

    Overall Impression

    LaFleur looks like Kyle Shanahan and sounds like he plans to run a Shanahan-McVay type system. His former colleagues reached two of the last three Super Bowls as coordinators or head coaches, and they didn't have Aaron Rodgers to work with.

    There's nothing wrong with LaFleur turning out to be just another similar-looking branch of an impressive young coaching tree. But he didn't make a huge impact as an individual during his brief appearance on Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see what he's really like once the new coach smell wears off.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Bruce Arians

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Bruce Arians, Buccaneers

    Sean McVay Number: O

    That's not a zero. It's an O, as in O.G. Arians was innovating offenses when McVay was teething on Legos.


    Fashion Sense: Elite

    Arians arrived at his combine press conference resplendent in a black blazer and gray Henley with a Buccaneers pin and a matching wool golf cap. He looked ready to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.


    How He Tackled His Team's Toughest Issues

    Arians spoke to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times earlier in February about his plans for Jameis Winston, and he reiterated his unwillingness to get into any Winston-Ryan Fitzpatrick controversies this year.

    "Fitz did a great job, but you don't want to split the locker room," Arians said. "We got one quarterback, if you have two, you don't have any, that's my opinion. So, he's our guy; hopefully number two never plays.

    "[Longtime assistant coach] Tom Moore had the best saying ever when he was here in Indy with Peyton [Manning]. Somebody asked him 'Why doesn't the number two guy get any reps?' and he said, 'It would be s--tty, and we don't coach s--tty.'"

    That is, in fact, the best saying ever.


    Overall Impression

    Media types like me love Arians for his shoot-from-the-hip responses and his long, distinguished career. Arians always comes across as experienced but not "establishment," like an old rock star who somehow never sold out.

    The McVay lookalikes may teach the NFL's old dogs new tricks, but the Buccaneers don't have to worry about a learning curve with Arians. As a team full of veterans that must soon make a decision on its franchise quarterbacks, the Buccaneers don't really have time for growing pains.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Vic Fangio, Broncos

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos


    Sean McVay Number: 4

    Fangio is so un-McVay-like that he wants all of the McVay types to get off his lawn.

    In fact, Fangio's comments about new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello revealed what Fangio (or GM John Elway, who was heavily involved with coaching staff hires) thinks of these whippersnappers getting head coaching gigs:

    "I like that he's had a nice path to get where he is today. He's [46] years old. I think he's at a perfect time in his career to take on this responsibility. I think he's done it the right way.”

    That's right: Fangio and Elway are kicking it so old-school that they don't even know the phrase "kicking it old-school" is extremely old-school.


    Fashion sense: Indifferent

    Fangio wore a gray pullover—no team logo or anything—from the department store Great-Uncle Raking Leaves collection to his combine press conference.


    How He Tackled His Team's Toughest Issues

    Fangio said that his relationship with Elway has been "seamless" so far. He refused to talk about the Joe Flacco trade, which remains unofficial until the start of the league year.

    When asked a question about leaving the Bears, Fangio joked, "The Bears? Who are they?" Elway demands absolutely fealty from his subjects, and may also demand that their brains be purged of all prior memories.


    Overall Impression

    Fangio came across as a well-respected coordinator given a late-career promotion by a team president who expects his head coach to be a functionary while he himself serves as the face and voice of the franchise. That's precisely what Fangio is, of course, and what he is expected to be.

    Fangio is in nearly the same situation Vance Joseph found himself in for two years. Elway picks the quarterbacks, the rest of the roster and much of the coaching staff, giving him de facto control over the offense. The head coach coordinates the defense and blows the whistle to start practice. Such a system could work with a talented coordinator at head coach and a shrewd evaluator making the big-picture decisions. If Fangio succeeds, the Broncos will be halfway there.


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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Not all of this week's news has involved weigh-ins and 40 times. Let's embrace some debate about some of the big stories that took place far from the combine floor.


    Jason Witten to come out of retirement and the broadcast booth to rejoin the Cowboys as a tight end on a one-year, up-to-$5-million contract.

    POINT: Tony Romo predicted this would happen and hid in the bushes when Jerrah knocked on Witten's door.

    COUNTERPOINT: Rumor has it ESPN will upgrade the Monday Night Football booth by replacing Witten with three hours of a circular saw cutting through a rusty pipe.


    Eagles executive VP of football operations Howie Roseman announces the team will allow quarterback Nick Foles to become a free agent.

    POINT: The team's eagerness to franchise-tag Foles and seek a trade partner (who's shortsighted enough to exchange draft picks for an expensive veteran who is overvalued because he got hot during a late-season Super Bowl run) may have cooled when they realized there is only one John Elway.

    COUNTERPOINT: Try not to blow up Foles' agent's phone right away, Jaguars. You don't want to come across as too eager and desper...oops, too late.


    Raiders reach an agreement with Coliseum Authority to play in Oakland in 2019, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

    POINT: Congratulations to the Raiders on achieving the football equivalent of getting your wife to let you sleep in the garage until the divorce is finalized. 

    COUNTERPOINT: Raiders owner Mark Davis can still get out of the agreement by trading away all the players in a fit of pique and then sealing himself in a giant manila envelope and mailing it to Las Vegas.


    Arthur Blank, Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder each purchased luxury yachts worth over $100 million.

    POINT: Can we can convince them to challenge each other to a race around the world? What are the chances that any of them could find their way back?

    COUNTERPOINT: The boats are so expensive because they come equipped with first mate Sam Bradford


    Bengals reportedly trying to trade former combine superstar John Ross.

    POINT: Ross became expendable this offseason after failing to make the transition from wide receiver to defensive coordinator.

    COUNTERPOINT: Let this be a reminder that combine results should be used to cross-check and confirm scouting data and that we should not get carried away by OMG A 6'4" RECEIVER JUST RAN A 4.35; TRADE THE WHOLE ORGANIZATION TO DRAFT HIM RIGHT THIS INSTANT.


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