Are D.K. Metcalf’s Agility Times A Concern?

Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf had a roller coaster of an NFL Scouting Combine. He started off on fire, measuring in at nearly 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds. With broad shoulders, a barrel chest and long arms, his measurements reinforced what we already knew; Metcalf is physically built like a phenom.

Next came the bench press, where Metcalf repped 225 pounds a whopping 27 times, tying the NFL Scouting Combine record for wide receivers.

Saturday morning came the speed, jumps and agility tests, where Metcalf again started off hot. He posted a vertical jump of 40.5 inches, good for the 93rd percentile among wide receivers.

Metcalf was even more impressive in the broad jump, leaping 134 inches and good for the 97th percentile among wide receivers. For a player in the 95th percentile for body weight among wide receivers, his jumps showed off just incredible explosiveness.

But the real highlight of D.K. Metcalf’s Combine performance came in the 40-yard dash. Metcalf ran a blazing 4.33s 40-yard dash, again good for the 95th percentile among wide receivers. For perspective, Brandin Cooks ran 4.33s while T.Y. Hilton and Tavon Austin ran 4.34s.

The moment overwhelmed Metcalf’s emotions, as all of his hard work and discipline during the pre-draft process were finally paid off.

From that point on though, Metcalf would struggle. In his three-cone drill, he ran 7.38s. In his short-shuttle, he posted 4.50s. Both of these were worrisome, as they were good for just the 2nd and 3rd percentile among wide receivers.

The slower times have raised some concerns about his lack of flexibility, or “stiffness.” Since he was widely used as a vertical wide receiver at Ole Miss, the perception is because he lacked the hip flexibility necessary for a full route tree.

Here are the realities:

On the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast, Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox expressed his frustrations with the play-calling at Ole Miss. With a limited number of basic, elementary air raid plays being called, the pass-catchers were fit into rigid roles. This limited the route tree for three future NFL wide receivers in Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Damarkus Lodge.

Metcalf is viewed as a receiver who “lacked” production in college. Up until his neck injury in his final season, Metcalf was dominating. On 40 targets, he had 569 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s over 14 yards per target, or nearly twice as high as average NFL wide receiver. That’s also a touchdown once every 8 targets, which is a ridiculous rate. Getting injured on the first drive of the 7th game of the season isn’t a reason to call Metcalf’s production “limited.”

Unless, of course, you value his redshirt freshman season equal to his 2018 campaign. That sounds a bit ridiculous to me, as I look at who a prospect is right now rather than two years ago.

Metcalf ran the agility drills at the end of his NFL Scouting Combine. Many receivers choose not to perform them because of the fatigue felt by that point of the week. On top of that, most bigger wide receiver decide to skip them entirely to hide their poor times. Metcalf can still improve those marks at his pro day, but even with them, they’re only a concern if it debilitates his performance on film.

When it comes to vertical routes, Metcalf is more than just a straight-line athlete. He consistently dominates the contact window, beating press coverage with ease. His crisp feet and violent hands rarely allows him to be re-routed.

On top of that, he’s shown the flexibility in his hips to sell routes and accelerate.

Looking past his vertical game, despite the slow agility times, Metcalf is more than adept on his horizontal breaks. Looking into his speed cuts, there is more than enough flexibility, technique and explosiveness to generate separation.

The more difficult single-move route breaks are the curl and comebacks.

Metcalf has technique fixes to make, such as keeping his forward lean on his break. Past that, his awareness shows on this play, which is a valuable trait for young receivers.

Bill Belichick has noted that Randy Moss was the smartest route runner he’s ever coached, and that’s not because he could rip off double moves and whip routes. Moss understood that defenses would cover him differently than any other wide receiver, and he adjusted. His natural feel for coverages dictated his route running, and Metcalf shows similar traits in that regard.

The poor agility times are only a concern if they limit Metcalf’s game on film. While he doesn’t project as an elite route runner and separator, Metcalf has shown that he’s going to be a window creator. Whether that is through his physical gifts, awareness or physicality, Metcalf gets open. He’ll never have the route running prowess of Calvin Ridley, but very few players will have Metcalf’s athleticism.

As long as he’s utilizing his natural tools, he’s going to become a problem for NFL defenses to cover.