Scout's Take: How Did NFL Teams Miss and Let DK Metcalf Fall in the Draft?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 22, 2020

Seattle Seahawks' DK Metcalf tosses away the ball after his 13-yard touchdown pass reception against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Picture this: a college football athlete with a frame loaded with muscle mass, standing 6'3" and weighing 228 pounds. His length, strength and aggressiveness on the field stand out every time you watch him play in a powerhouse conference.

Not only does he dominate on tape, but this athlete also wows with a shocking 4.33-second run in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Now imagine this player being the No. 9 prospect drafted at his position and the No. 64 overall pick in his draft class.

This player is DK Metcalf, and the NFL messed up. Big time.

Look back at the 2019 NFL draft, and you'll see eight wide receivers taken ahead of the Seattle Seahawks' Metcalf. Some are standouts and future stars (A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel), but many others are straight-up struggling.

Marquise Brown and Mecole Hardman have shown flashes, but they're role players. N'Keal Harry, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Parris Campbell and Andy Isabella are doing close to nothing. Then there was Metcalf. The unicorn prospect at 6'3" with muscles on top of muscles who owned go routes in college football.

You will be shocked to know Metcalf is owning the NFL like he did the SEC.

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So how does a player with these credentials fall in the draft? Given 18 months since the 2019 event to reflect, we asked an NFL talent evaluator and revisited previous conversations with scouts on how a special prospect like Metcalf can end up the last pick in Round 2.

"I do think people forget that the draft is a lot like the stock market," said one former NFL director of player personnel. "You try to evaluate not only immediate ability but future success. With DK, people forget that he was coming off a broken neck and also had one of the worst three-cone times in NFL combine history. Yes, he's a freak in terms of straight-line ability, but teams were right to have concerns."

The injury note is a good point, and something that has been forgotten since Metcalf was cleared January 25 (three months before the 2019 draft) and left teams with questions coming off October 2018 neck surgery.

Injury issues are a surefire way for even great prospects to fall in the draft, but it was shocking even at the time that a player with Round 1 talent would fall to the end of Round 2 after being cleared for football activities and showing out at the combine.

The tape was something many scouts pointed out at the time as an issue.

Going back into my scouting notes on Metcalf, this quote from a scout stands out: "With a frame that big, you really worry about flexibility, and that shows up in his route tree. There aren't many breaking routes, and his hips don't naturally sink. He can't bend."

That's valid. Metcalf's route tree at Ole Miss was limited to mostly vertical routes and quick hitters that let him run after the catch. But scouting is chiefly about what a player can do and not what he can't. This is relevant because Metcalf's NFL route tree has fully developed—something we saw in his rookie season as he ended the year running breaking routes and timing routes that didn't show up at Ole Miss.

John Froschauer/Associated Press

And that's a scouting lesson: You have to account for a player's ability to develop beyond who they are at the time.

Injuries and concerns about skill improvements are reason enough to fall down the draft board a little, but to fall behind Isabella? That's inexcusable, and something general managers will no doubt regret any time their passing game struggles.

Self-scouting is a big part of evaluating, and it's important to look back at my own report on him: "Metcalf could be the star or the bust of the 2019 draft class. His athletic traits are otherworldly, but his lack of production and experience is alarming. Throw in a couple of injuries that kept him off the field, and it's easy to envision that teams will be cautious even with his jaw-dropping speed and strength."

A lack of production and experience were the keys, but the raw ability was so evident. That's why Metcalf ranked as my WR4 (behind A.J. Brown, Harry and Marquise Brown) but also carried a comparison to Terrell Owens and a Round 1 ranking at No. 32 overall.

Scouts miss. It's the nature of the business, but missing on an athlete like Metcalf and opting for players who seemingly projected better in the NFL is how people lose their jobs. It's how Mitchell Trubisky goes before Patrick Mahomes. It's how Lamar Jackson is the fifth quarterback drafted in a year. And for the Seahawks, it's how they landed one of the NFL's most athletically dominant players in the second round.

           

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.