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D.K. Metcalf has what the Ravens need

NCAA Football: Kent State at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the 2019 NFL draft pundits and fans alike have many questions. Often times, teams tend to be quite aloof, using the press conferences as a smoke screen to mask their true intentions. Various media outlets do their best to see through the smoke and mirrors. Predictions are made as to what teams will actually do in the draft. Will the Cardinals take Kyler Murray with the top pick? Do the Giants like Dwayne Haskins? Exactly HOW bad were Jachai Polite’s interviews? Will the Patriots aim to trade up since they have 12 picks? Many of these questions likely won’t be answered until April 25th. Mr. Eric DeCosta has danced around a few questions. However... he has made one point of emphasis. We’re taking a swing or two in an attempt to upgrade our receiver room.

Unless DeCosta is pulling the world’s most overdue April fools joke, we will see some new wide-outs donning purple and black in the 2019 season. With so much scrutiny and frustration on the ghosts of Ravens receivers past, the tall tales have grown to wild proportion. Travis Taylor couldn’t catch a cold” you will hear in the at Looney’s Pub in Bel Air. “Torrey Smith was the best we ever drafted... even HE never even made a pro-bowl” they whisper at the Greene Turtle in Towson. “Hey, remember Tandon Doss?” “Uh... Kinda.” Meanwhile, the Ravens have been tasked with shutting down superstar receivers year after year. Just in the AFC-North alone, six times a year they have faced the likes of Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, Santonio Holmes, Chad Johnson, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Jarvis Landry & Co. We all know who just joined that list... HINT— he rocks a Brillo pad of yellow curls and has a love/hate relationship with kicking nets.

Don’t get it twisted, the Ravens have had some awe inspiring receivers over the years as well. Steve Smith Sr., Derrick Mason, and who can forget Anquan Boldin? “Quuuuuuuu!”. What sort of memories do those three players bring back? Memories filled with grit, toughness, competitiveness, countless wins, and playoff seasons. Those are three guys that smack you in the mouth on the field, but are some of the most charitable men across the NFL off of it. They were RAVENS. They exemplified the common characteristics that have come to define a franchise that won a Super Bowl in its early stages. Since then, the blackbirds have aged into an identity filled with grit more and more over the years. Ground and pound, smash-mouth, gang-tackling, hard nosed Ravens football has become the standard. Coach Harbaugh has made it evident that the next set of rookie receivers will be the NASTIEST pick of the lot. The guys who LOVE blocking, they don’t just do it because its their assignment. He wants players that are going to run THROUGH you, fight for yards, and bring heat for 60 minutes.

Despite all of the success the Ravens, Newsome and DeCosta have had over the years they have yet to even crack the Pro Bowl with a home grown receiver. Certainly minuscule compared to the countless and illustrious other accomplishments of the Wizard of Oz, but I’m sure the prolific pass catcher himself has always hung his hat on his ability to evaluate those who catch the ball.

Ozzie is no longer the GM, but according to Jameison Hensley’s article on ESPN.com:
Newsome, 63, has stepped aside to allow Eric DeCosta to take over as general manager, but he has a role in the organization (even though he never received a title). Newsome has moved out of his office so DeCosta can be a few feet away from coach John Harbaugh and has relocated to Art Modell’s old office down the hall, but he still delivers a trusted voice (even though his days of news conferences are presumably over). Without the daily administrative duties of a GM, Newsome has watched more tape than he has the last couple of years and has been able to form more opinions on this year’s prospects. ”I think he’s really enjoying it,” DeCosta said.”

So Ozzie is sitting at the end of the hall in the former office of the man who gave him his first shot as an executive. That hiring, which was paramount for both African-American and former players taking on executive roles, was over twenty years ago. Ozzie is tucked away grinding the tape again. I imagine it’s the way he was grinding tape when the Ravens were at the bottom of the barrel. Back when he was trying to build a young franchise through the draft with guys like Chris McAlister, Peter Boulware, Johnathan Ogden, Todd Heap, Haloti Ngata, Jamal Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis (and yes Kyle Boller). Ozzie is free of the tediousness that being the General Manager carried. He’s back to scouting at its purest form— grinding the tape, taking notes, and figuring out which prospects will adjust better to the league than others. The day to day operations, the negotiations, the obstacles are now DeCosta’s arena. The new GM learned from the best, and is primed to conquer that world with years of on the job experience.

DeCosta has earned his stripes, there has never been a question of that. He lives, breathes, and bleeds Ravens football. He has also frequently mentioned how he plans to use analytics more, and try to find the right blend of art and science (tape and stats). Ozzie and Eric grind tape and take notes. Then they try to see what measurables and game tape indicate that a receiver will be successful at the next level. Is it their 40 time? Are they a natural hands catcher? How many release variations do they have at the line? How much does the 3-cone drill indicate short area explosiveness? Is 10-yard split more important for slot receivers? Does he use his body to shield the ball effectively? Those two men have been doing this song and dance for over 40 years combined, but new analytics are always emerging.

Quick Summary: We know this much... the Ravens are taking a receiver, Ozzie’s grinding tape in Mr. Modell’s office, and Harbaugh is banging on the table for guys who “play like a Raven.”

We need someone to join Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts, who figure to work out of the slot, and the “Z” mainly (the receiver who typically comes in motion and lines up as a flanker off the LOS).

Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Quincy Adeboyejo, and Jaleel Scott all presume to be underneath and intermediate threats who will be sharing more snaps. They also have Mark Andrews, who can play any of the receiver positions, and essentially is a big slot. Hayden Hurst figures to take a lion’s share of in-line TE snaps alongside Nick Boyle. Boyle and Hurst will be moving pieces in the backfield as fullbacks, in-line tight ends, on unbalanced lines, etc. This group consists mainly of slot receivers who are underneath-intermediate specialists and players still developing.

The Ravens need someone who can take the top off of coverage, run safeties off (to open up throwing lanes underneath), and keep the defense honest with speed. John Brown was that man last year but Lamar didn’t seem to mesh well with the undersized receiver. Lamar seemed much more confident on throws to larger targets like Andrews, Snead, Hurst, and Crabtree. So they need someone a little bigger than John Brown, who can run, beat press, win 1-on-1, and keep safeties honest. That guy also needs to be a bully like Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and Derrick Mason. The Ravens need someone to bring the noise every play.

Here are the list of guys who (in my humble opinion) meet that mold, and who the Ravens should target them in the upcoming draft.

  • D.K. Metcalf
  • Hakeem Butler
  • Deebo Samuel
  • Terry McLaurin
  • Mecole Hardman
  • JJ Arcega-Whiteside
  • Anthony Ratliff-Williams
  • A.J. Brown
  • Kelvin Harmon
  • Jakobi Meyers

First up is D.K. Metcalf. Arguably the most debated non QB prospect in the 2019 class.

(Much of this information was made readily available within a FREE comprehensive draft guide, brought to you by Senior NFL Draft Analyst Kyle Crabbs over at Thedraftnetwork.com. They do great work.)

Measurements and Statistics:

Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network

Additionally—

  • Catch Rate 56.8% (his 60% deep catch rate ranked 11th during his career, and he was 4th in the nation last season)
  • Drop Rate 10.3% (Ranked 131st in the nation over his career he has a few drops, but not quite as many as ISU’s Hakeem Butler)

Athletic Testing—

  • 10 yard split- 1.45s (unheard of at his size)
  • 3 Cone- 7.38s (Extremely low— bottom 2% of all WR ever)
  • Short Shuttle 4.5s (Strangely higher than his 40 time, which suggest elite speed and poor agility)

Gametape—

Everyone reading this article has probably heard of the all-time combine numbers from Metcalf. Countless Ravens fans have also seen another Pro Day warrior, Breshad Perriman, fizzle out due to injury, lack of development, and being misused. Let me say this ONCE, but loud, so even those in the back can hear me.


*D.K. Metcalf is a first round prospect. Breshad Perriman was NOT a 1st round prospect.*

I’m not saying that I can’t understand some of the doubts. Metcalf has red flags, and some of my friends would prefer someone smaller and speedier than the 6’4’’ 230 pound behemoth... which is understandable because his agility numbers leave much to be desired.


However, the Perriman comparison doesn’t hold much water. NFL network draft guru and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah (probably my favorite draft analyst) said it best before the 2015 draft.

“The scouting world stopped and took notice after Perriman ripped off a mid-4.2 40-yard dash at his pro day. This has launched his draft stock into the stratosphere, with some discussing him as a potential top-15 pick. That’s way too high for a player who drops a ton of balls, has hip tightness and doesn’t play nearly as fast as he was timed. Perriman has value as a developmental deep threat, but I’d feel much more comfortable selecting him at the top of the second round than the top half of the first.”

Here is what Jeremiah has to say about D.K. in his most recent player rankings:
“Metcalf has a rare blend of size, speed and athleticism. He’s at his best on runaway routes (go, slant, post). He explodes off the ball in his release and uses his big frame (6-4, 230) to wall off opponents on slants and vertical routes. He’s a little choppy at the top of his route when he’s working back to the quarterback. Metcalf makes some spectacular one-handed grabs, but he will drop some passes due to lack of concentration. He is exceptional after the catch, breaking tackles and pulling away from defenders. Overall, Metcalf still has room to improve, but he’s built like the Batman suit -- extremely explosive and tough. He will be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams as soon as he steps foot on an NFL field. Barring any setbacks in his recovery from the season-ending neck injury he suffered in October. Pre-draft medical checks figure to play a big role in his evaluation.”

First round players are supposed to be immediate, day one contributors. If you’re picked in the top half of the first round, you’re expected to perform as well as the top half at your position from day one. If you’re picked in the first round at all, you’re expected to be starting or a heavy usage rotational player. THAT is the difference between Breshad Perriman and D.K. Metcalf overall, now let me dig a little deeper.


Metcalf set the combine record (tied with N’Keal Harry) for bench press at the combine. That strength translates and it shows in his game. I can count on one hand the amount of remotely effective jams corners have put on Metcalf, and still have a finger or two to spare. He has GREAT hand usage, keeps his chest protected with a Floyd Mayweather worthy guard. His reflexes are elite, if you reach to press D.K. your hands will be swatted, he will throw off your momentum, then you have to catch him from behind. He runs a 4.33 at 6’4’’ 230. Good luck...
If you DO somehow manage to keep up with him downfield he can do this..

Or this....

Oh... and he can block

Metcalf does have a pair of red/yellow flags.

Here are my thoughts;

  1. Red flag— He suffered a severe neck injury that caused him to miss the final half of the 2018 season. The Ravens (and Orioles) are known for having thorough medical evaluations and proceeding with caution. They took Rob Gronkowski off their draft board, and passed on him, because of his injury history as an Arizona Wildcat.
  2. Yellow flag— Metcalf had extremely poor agility scores at the NFL combine. He followed up at the Mississippi Pro Day and showed improvement. Pro Day results are taken with a grain of salt, but there was visible improvement to his shuttle and 3-cone drills. These agility scores are correlated with a receivers ability to break off routes in short areas. That is commonly a knock/critique on Metcalf’s game, but in the Ravens offense he wouldn’t need to do that at first. They need someone to beat press coverage when the box is stacked and keep the FS from creeping up into the box to stymie the rushing attack. Lamar has been criticized for his deep ball accuracy (especially outside the numbers). However, according Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus, LJ had a QB rating of 86.5 from a clean pocket (Baker 100.2, Darnold 93.9, Rosen 80.9, and Allen 79.8) better than two of the other rookie QB’s taken in the first round a year ago. His deep ball QB rating ranked second at 93.8 (trailing only Mayfields mark of 107.6).

Tying into Metcalf’s concerns about agility, the part of his game that needs the most development is separating at the top of breaking routes. He tends to take too many choppy steps, which is typically due to a combination of poor footwork, technique, and ankle flexion. However, with Metcalf’s strength if he uses his hands to separate (push-off), then he could follow the mold of Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins, and Michael Irvin early in their careers.

Watch how Hopkins uses his hands to push off and separate from Jalen Ramsey. Hopkins also tested with similarly poor agility numbers at his combine, but is still a HOF caliber route runner. The same way Antonio Brown ran a 4.6, the combine isn’t always indicative of a players ability on a field with pads on.



If you don’t believe Metcalf has an elite COMBINATION of Size, Speed, and Quickness to beat his opponent off the line... watch this clip against Texas Tech...

Mr. Eric Crocker couldn’t have broken it down any better.

Summary:

D.K. Metcalf is the highest ceiling “X” receiver of any WR prospect since (at least) Amari Cooper. His floor is much higher than the Breshad Perriman and Laquon Treadwells of the world. If you combine the skills of the two of those players, you essentially get D.K. The only reason I see him realistically being a “bust” is because of injuries. That makes his floor Josh Gordon (a one year wonder due to injury rather than off-field concerns). In a more advanced passing scheme, D.K. could put up Julio Jones like numbers, but doesn’t quite have the agility or route ability to be on that level just yet. If Metcalf stays healthy his ceiling is Terrell Owens. His physical traits, alpha mentality, outstanding work ethic, and seemingly high character all spell a recipe for success. If Metcalf (knock on wood) does have to fight another severe injury, he has already shown the ability to come back even stronger than before (he posted all-time combine numbers after suffering a severe neck injury). However, a neck injury isn’t exactly the same as recovering from a torn ligament. We’ve all seen how herniated disks in Joe Flacco’s back limited him athletically. Mike Williams from Clemson suffered a similar injury, didn’t recover as quickly, isn’t quite as gifted athletically as Metcalf, and was still a top-10 pick after not being able to participate in the combine. He had an extremely solid year for the Chargers last year, and looks to be on his way to continuing that in the years to come leading up to his rookie deal expiring.

I don’t anticipate Metcalf making it out of the teens to pick 22 considering players such as John Ross and Mike Williams were drafted inside the top 10. If he doesn’t fall, the only other prospects I would be pleased with would be Clelin Ferrell, Chase Winovich, Erik McCoy (the best pulling center I’ve ever studied) or another interior offensive lineman.

If the Ravens selected Metcalf, I would praise the pick highly. I trust the Ravens front office and medical staff to project his ability to stay healthy at the next level with professional training and guidance. If they selected him, considering all of the failure to meet expectations of previous receivers, then I would be more than comfortable. He fits the mold that John Harbaugh has described as what traits fit the Raven way. If he stays healthy, I would project him to mesh extremely well with Lamar and the rest of the locker room. He will drop a few balls, but his deep ball catch rate is outstanding.


Corners at the NFL level will press him early to gauge his ability to release. I anticipate he will be able to move them with his outstanding hand fighting and overall strength, forcing them to play “off” giving him a cushion. More nimble corners will probably try to use what is called “soft shoe” press on Metcalf. Soft shoe is a technique where a corner lines up as if he were going to press, but then doesn’t attempt to jam the receiver, merely mirroring the receiver and running with them. This can be defeated by using route combinations like picks, or throwing screens to Metcalf. If you can set a pick on a corner, then you’ll free up the receiver, picks have been extremely popular in the NFL lately, and defenses ARE adjusting to them, but they’re still lethal if properly executed.

D.K. Metcalf’s statistics over the course of a full season in 2019-2020 as the Ravens starting X receiver (in a vacuum)— I predict would be somewhere between 35 and 50 catches for 650-900 yards and 5-8 TDs.

D.K. Metcalf Game of Thrones player comparison: Rob Stark. Unforeseen circumstances (injury) might ruin his wedding the Ravens, but he will certainly be capable of taking the Iron Throne, and dominating the rest of the AFC for quite some time.

In the coming weeks leading up to the draft, I will be breaking down the other receivers that would make the best fit for the Ravens, as well as delving deeper into draft strategy for both long term and short term competitiveness for the Baltimore Ravens in the coming years.

Sidenote:

This is my first article as a member of the team at Baltimore Beatdown. I’m honored and humbled to join the squad of writers. I wanted to say thank you to Kyle and the rest of the team for bringing me on and making me feel welcome. Now please give me a nice warm welcome and shred me limb from limb in the comments below, and feel free to do so on twitter as well.