D.K Metcalf: Production or Promise?
By all accounts from people in the NFL or those who are self-sourced “scouts”, D.K Metcalf coming out of Ole Miss is expected to be a first-round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Most of the mock drafts that are being put out by larger websites and fan-driven blogs have him going in the first round. Last week, this photo of Metcalf looking more like a new member of the Avengers than a football player made the rounds. From a physical standpoint, there does not seem to be a complaint about him (at least before the combine).
Metcalf stands 6-4 and weighs 230 pounds; to give you an idea of who that is like in the NFL, the only players that size who had more than 50 targets last season were Mike Evans, Eric Ebron, Demaryius Thomas, and Kelvin Benjamin. All of those players, in their pomp, are among the best at their positions. DT had six straight seasons with more than 160 targets and had three years in a row with double-digit touchdowns. Eric Ebron is coming off of a 14 touchdown season, Mike Evans is over 6,000 yards in his five-year career and well, the less said about Kelvin Benjamin the better.
If you are coming into this article with no prior knowledge of who Metcalf is, you’re probably asking “What’s the rub?” Why would a player who has an outstanding physical stature, who played in the SEC, who is getting a first-round grade from scouts be controversial at all? The answer is that Metcalf only played in 21 college games over three seasons and only gained 1,228 yards over those 21 games while scoring 14 touchdowns.
To put a comparison to that, the worst first-round WR bust of the last decade is probably A.J Jenkins who had 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns over 4 seasons in college and went on to catch only 17 passes in the NFL. The last injured Power Five wide receiver to go in the first-round, Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers, gained 2,727 receiving yards at Clemson and scored 21 touchdowns despite only playing two full seasons as a starter on offense.
Metcalf’s teammate, A.J Brown, had a 32% market share of Ole Miss’s passing yards in 2018 and 29% of their passing touchdowns. While Brown is shorter and older than Metcalf which lowers his projectable ceiling (older college wide receivers have a demonstrably lower future ceiling as younger rookies have a greater chance of future success with all things being equal), in my view of evaluating prospects, it is harder to say that Metcalf is definitely a better NFL draft pick than Brown.
The Metcalf problem is simple: how much do NFL teams and scouts know that we don’t? Most good models for projecting future success for dynasty and redraft fantasy football leagues should build in draft equity. There will be cases likes Phillip Dorsett or A.J Jenkins where no amount of playing time can make them valuable fantasy assets but more often than not, draft position is likely to be a positive future indicator of NFL production.
Wide receivers drafted in the first round of the NFL draft average 3.84 catches per game over their career, 53.66 yards and .35 touchdowns per game. That of course dwarves the numbers for all other rounds; even the second-round production falls off by at least 15% in catches, yards, and touchdowns per game. Unfortunately, with a player like Metcalf, it likely makes the most sense to follow what NFL teams choose to do with him. Is he going to end up being my top-ranked wide receiver of this class? Not a chance. Is there a fairly decent chance that he ends up being drafted in the first round and makes these concerns look silly? Absolutely.