One of the more polarizing rookies for 2019 is none other than DK Metcalf.  He has the size, straight line speed, decent draft capital, and now potentially greater opportunity early in his career than many originally expected.  So how does Metcalf fit into the 2019 Seattle Seahawks passing attack?

The Russell Wilson Effect

Perhaps the most important factor in a WR’s success is his QB play, and luckily for DK, the Quarterback charged with delivering him the ball is lethal, especially in the intermediate and deep range.  According to PFF, Russell Wilson ranked fourth in completion percentage on passes between 10-19 yards downfield (58.4%), and graded out second in the NFL at 98.4 when throwing 20+ yards outside the numbers on the left (19/39, 690 yards, 6 TDs).  This is great news for DK, as in college he predominantly lined up on the left side of the alignment (324 of his 344 snaps).  While Metcalf’s short agility has been questioned following the infamous Combine 3-cone drill, you will be hard pressed to find anyone doubting his ability to beat his man off the line and get behind the coverage. 

Knock, Knock – It’s Me, Opportunity

One of the biggest stories post-draft has been the potential retirement of Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin.  While he has yet to ‘officially’ announce his decision, we know for certain he will not be in Seattle in 2019 after they released him on May 9th.  This sudden development has created some immediate opportunities for Seattle WR in general; 73 targets from last year (including an average of 7 targets per game the previous two seasons) are vacated with Baldwin’s departure.  This is one major hurdle out of the way for DK Metcalf in allowing him to contribute early.  The remaining WR’s competing for targets include Tyler Lockett, who did post a ridiculous 97.8 grade on deep routes and helped Russell Wilson achieve a 158.1 passer rating when targeted.  However, his TD efficiency is highly unlikely to repeat as last season he reeled in 10 TDs on just 65 targets.  David Moore was in a similar boat, with TDs on 10% of his targets.  These are two guys that were efficient in their 2018 production, but unlikely to replicate.

So what about Seattle’s play-calling?  After all, they called running plays on an NFL-high 52% of play-calls, and benefited from the aforementioned hyper-efficiency of their WR’s.  While Seattle didn’t throw a ton volume-wise, when they did, they targeted deep passes (15+ air yards) at a high clip.  According to Sharp Football Stats, 23% of Seattle’s passing attempts were considered deep passes.  These numbers compare favorably to other high-flying offenses like Kansas City (22% of the time), the LA Rams (20%) and Pittsburgh (16%).  While Wilson was 20th in the NFL in total passing attempts, he finished 6th in Air Yards/Attempt.  This pairs well with DK’s strengths, as evidenced by his 2.83 yards per route run in 2018, 18.7 YPC average in his final two collegiate seasons, and plethora of ‘Go’ routes run while at Ole Miss.

Pass Frequency by Target Depth and Direction for Russell Wilson in 2018

More Reward Than Risk

Taking all of this into consideration, let’s take a step back and review: we have an elite QB locked in til 2024, vacated targets for 2019 and beyond, positional competition that is primed for TD regression, an offense that likes to throw the ball downfield, and a rookie WR that has 2nd round draft capital.  While DK has been viewed as the ultimate risk/reward rookie pick, I believe the risk may be slightly inflated and the potential reward undervalued.