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Can DK Metcalf lead NFL in receiving?
Why not DK following Justin Jefferson and Cooper Kupp? Seaside Joe 1584
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The Sean McVay connection
I’ve often said that the best content on the Internet is often created by people who don’t have a large following. On Monday, I watched this breakdown of how Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson gained 1,809 yards last season by Coaching Football Insights (89 views) and it made me wonder if the Seahawks could be the next offense to feature an 1,800-yard receiver.
It’s extremely important to note that Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams in 2021, when Cooper Kupp led the league in receptions (145, second-most all-time), yards (1,947, also second-most), and touchdowns (16). O’Connell brought the offense with him to Minnesota and Jefferson caught 128 passes for 1,809 yards, both tops in the NFL, but only caught eight touchdowns.
Jefferson and Kupp are the two most recent winners of Offensive Player of the Year and a receiver could win it again in 2023.
But Jefferson and Kupp’s O’Connell connection isn’t the only link between two of the top single-season receiving yards of all-time:
Calvin Johnson’s NFL-best 1,964 yards (in one less game than Kupp) in 2012 came with Matthew Stafford as his QB, same as Kupp in 2021; Johnson’s 1,681 yards in 2011 is the 15th-best mark of all-time
Julio Jones had 136 catches and 1,871 yards in 2015, third best all-time, and that Falcons offensive staff was led by McVay-best friend Kyle Shanahan, future Rams coach/Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, and future Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel
Tyreek Hill’s 1,710 yards in 2022 is the 11th-most of all-time and his head coach was McDaniel (Miami’s passing game coordinator is Darrell Bevell)
With LaFleur as his head coach in Green Bay, Davante Adams posted career-best marks of 115 catches and 18 touchdowns in 2020 (in only 14 games), then new career-bests of 123 catches and 1,553 yards in 2021 with another 11 touchdowns
Of course, Seattle has their own Sean McVay connection to “boast” in offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Though Waldron, L.A.’s passing game coordinator from 2018 to 2020, doesn’t have the same post-McVay resume as counterparts like LaFleur, O’Connell, and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor (sporting a three-head monster at receiver led by Ja’Marr Chase, who has averaged 86.2 yards per game in two seasons), it’s not like the Seahawks passing game has suffered.
DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett became one of the rare duos in franchise history to both cross over 1,000 yards (Metcalf had 90/1,048/6 in 17 games and Lockett had 84/1,033/9 in 16 games) and Seattle’s tight end trio combined for over 1,000 yards and a catch rate of roughly 80%.
After drafting Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round and a running back with great hands in the second round, some would say that the Seahawks have as much receiving talent as any offense in the NFL. I would also not have qualms comparing Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to Geno Smith, at least talent-wise.
For that reason, some fans will argue against any Seahawks receiver gaining 1,500 yards simply out of a lack of necessity. “Is it better for Seattle to have one dominant receiver when they have such an obvious opportunity to spread the ball around?”
And “Why DK Metcalf instead of Lockett?”
DK Metcalf has as much talent as any receiver in the NFL
My first thought was actually to center this article around Jaxon Smith-Njigba—and I could still do that one day—then I had to ask myself, “Why do that?”
I think it’s because for whatever reason Metcalf has averaged 12.2 yards per reception and caught 18 touchdowns (in 34 games) over the past two seasons. He’s also averaged 7.5 yards per target in that span of time. Which kind of makes him seem like Waldron plans to use him more as Adam Thielen than as Justin Jefferson.
Which is…weird, right?
Now this could just be dysfunction with my brain, but when I think of Seattle throwing the long ball, I think of Tyler Lockett. My memories immediately jump to Geno Smith chucking it downfield to Lockett (who averaged 12.3 yards per catch in 2022, but 16.1 in 2021) and not Metcalf.
And then you say, “Well, don’t be so hard on DK, he’s not “the fast one” like the small, shifty Tyler” and we’re reminded that actually Metcalf ran a faster 40 (4.33 to 4.40) and did this:
So now I start connecting all these dots and think…
The Seahawks have a Sean McVay offensive coach running the offense—AND
Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson just had two of the best seasons of all-time in part because of being connected to Sean McVay’s offense—AND
DK Metcalf is a better physical specimen than either of those two players: Jefferson is 6’1, 202 lbs, and ran a 4.43, compared to Metcalf’s 6’4, 235, and a 4.33. The guy who made that YouTube video highlighted above notes how the Vikings utilize Jefferson’s horizontal speed in the deep game to complement a quick passing attack in the short game and that resulted in Offensive Player of the Year.
Though you might think that’s partly because Jefferson “was the only weapon Cousins had last season”, you’re overlooking that Thielen played in all 17 games and had 107 targets of his own, while third receiver K.J. Osborn had 90 targets and tight end T.J. Hockenson had 86 targets despite only playing in 10 games after being traded to Minnesota midseason.
Metcalf had 141 targets last season—43 fewer than Jefferson, which is 2.5 per game—while Lockett had 117, followed by Noah Fant at 63 and Marquise Goodwin at 42. Jefferson still had a larger target share (28% to 25%) but they weren’t separated by much. My question is: Can Metcalf be that dominant even after adding JSN?
I don’t see why not.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba could give, not take away
Even more relevant than Jefferson’s 2022 season would be Kupp’s 2021 season, not only because the Rams had a talented receiver room but also as a reminder that…L.A. won the Super Bowl that year!
For anyone who thinks that feeding DK Metcalf like a castaway who’s been rescued from a desert island after four years alone…here’s DK asking for the ball from 2019-2021:
The Rams won the Super Bowl by stuffing Kupp’s face two years ago. And the Vikings went 13-4 last season. A receiver leading the NFL in catches and yards and winning Offensive Player of the Year is not bad for the team.
In 2021, the Los Angeles Rams entered the season with Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, and second round picks from each of the previous two drafts, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell. In the middle of the year, the Rams then signed Odell Beckham, Jr., which was immediately followed by Woods tearing his ACL in practice. Jefferson, Woods, OBJ, and tight end Tyler Higbee all got their opportunities and it didn’t stop Kupp from 191 targets and winning the receiver triple crown.
Then in four playoff games, Kupp caught 33 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns. Playoff defenses had no answer for Kupp.
DK Metcalf is a far better athlete than Cooper Kupp. The question, perhaps, is whether he can be as careful with the football, catch a higher rate of passes (Metcalf has a career catch rate of 61.3%, while Kupp’s is 73%), and start to close the gap on all the less shiny objects of playing wide receiver than the things we tend to look at and grasp on.
There surely seems to be progress for Metcalf as a route runner from his days as a draft prospect out of Ole Miss and hope that he can capitalize on his unparalleled physical talents.
Just this March, Alex Vigderman of Sports Info Solutions noted that Metcalf is an example of how “the lack of a diverse route tree coming out of college can be overcome”.
At that time, there were a lot of questions about DK Metcalf. He was a physical marvel who didn’t have enough of a track record—and specifically a track record of running a full NFL route tree—to be a top prospect.
We can frame Metcalf’s limited route diversity at the time in a few ways. A relatively simple version is to just count how many routes he ran at least 5 times over his last two years at Ole Miss. SIS charted just nine, which is fewer than almost every receiver to enter the NFL over the last four seasons (among those with at least 150 routes run in their final two FBS seasons).
Metcalf obviously turned that narrative on its head when he showed his physical tools to be more than sufficient to overcome whatever limitation he had in experience. Most players aren’t in that position.
And one reason I wanted to be sure to highlight Davante Adams and his transformation under LaFleur earlier was because of how he was perceived prior to the last five years. It’s easy to forget that the former second round pick, despite playing with Aaron Rodgers from 2014 to 2017, averaged 68 catches for 810 yards per season and 11.9 yards per catch.
Adams caught just four touchdowns in his first two seasons combined and it took him until year five to become the player we know him as today, with some citing him as an even better receiver than Jefferson and Kupp. From 2018 to 2021, Adams improved to 129 catches, 1,584 yards, 12.3 yards per catch, and 12 touchdowns per season. Then after changing out Rodgers for Derek Carr, he still had 100 catches for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2022.
Having Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, potentially a top-five slot receiver as soon as this season, could only do more to open up opportunities for DK Metcalf in 2023. If there is a single receiver on the offense who I would point to first as the guy who is not reaching his potential to become the best in the NFL, it would have to be Metcalf, and that’s with me knowing that Lockett is severely underrated and believing that Smith-Njigba is going to be an immediate superstar.
Geno Smith is as capable as Kirk Cousins and has the potential to be at least as good as an average Matthew Stafford season, so then it’s just a matter of, “What’s holding Metcalf back from being a 1,500-1,800 yard player?”
It shouldn’t be the scheme. It shouldn’t be the quarterback. It shouldn’t be his athletic abilities. It shouldn’t be the supporting cast. It shouldn’t be defenses. It shouldn’t be because it’s “bad” for the Seahawks, because we’ve seen how good it’s been for the Rams and Vikings. At this point, it could only be DK Metcalf.
If he’s able to catch up with the top-tier receivers on getting the little things right, he could finally do all the big things as well as anyone at the position.
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