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Seahawks WR DK Metcalf
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Gallant: Seahawks’ DK Metcalf on Jerry Rice-like ascension? Not as crazy as it sounds

Paul Gallant says comparing Seahawks' DK Metcalf to Jerry Rice actually makes sense. (Getty)

Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf is only in his second year in the NFL. And he’s already one of the league’s best.

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Through five games, the Seahawks’ leading receiver has 22 catches for 496 yards (second) and five TDs (tied for second), averaging a league-best 22.5 yards per reception. And he’s off to a better statistical start than superstar receivers like Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, and Julio Jones over the first 21 games of their career.

Sports super-stardom creates crazy conversations and insane expectations. At least for us non-athletes. Enter Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and something he told the Sunday Night Football broadcast.

“Russell Wilson this week told us all that he thought DK Metcalf was going to be one of the greatest receivers of all time,” said Chris Collinsworth after DK had scored the Seahawks’ game-winning touchdown against the Vikings. “He said he wanted to be Joe Montana because he expects him to be Jerry Rice, and where did he go with the money on the line?”

Given what we’ve heard about DK’s competitive nature, GOAT convo might not be completely crazy. Just like Wilson’s obsession with perfection, Russ and DK recreating the Montana to Rice connection isn’t completely crazy.

That broadcast comparison was on Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s mind during his visit with us on Monday’s Pete Carroll show.

“There was a time when Jerry Rice struggled,” said Pete Carroll. “He dropped a bunch of balls in his rookie season. About halfway through it he started to come out of it, and then he just exploded in world-class, all-time kind of play.”

“DK’s had some disappointments,” continued Pete. “And he’s going to continue to have to deal with those. But he’ll deal with them less and less and less. He’s developing into a real factor on the team. And it couldn’t be more obvious the way he and Russ were hooking up last night. And they didn’t hit ‘em all. But you better watch out.”

I was surprised to hear THE Jerry Rice had to work through early struggles. Just how similar was his start to DK’s?

Coming out of college, Rice and Metcalf couldn’t be more different. Rice ran a forgettable 40 time – 4.58 – but set 18 Division 1-AA records at Mississippi Valley State. Not Mississippi State. THE Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. And despite 310 receptions for 4,856 yards and 51 touchdowns in 42 games, he was a relative unknown in a pre-social media age. Most teams saw him as a “mystery guy” that lacked foot speed, and the third-best receiving prospect in the 1985 NFL Draft after Al Toon and Eddie Brown. I know, who? Those two were drafted by the Bengals and Jets respectively (LOL, classic) before the 49ers took Rice 16th overall.

Metcalf struggled to stay on the field at Ole Miss due to a foot injury as a freshman and a neck injury in as a redshirt sophomore. His stats – 67 receptions for 1,228 yards and 14 touchdowns over three years – sure weren’t Rice caliber. But thanks to a viral photo, an incredible 40 time, and struggles in agility drills at the NFL combine, he became one of the most discussed – and polarizing – prospects of the 2019 NFL Draft. Thought of as a potential first-round pick, he was invited to Nashville’s green room, only to fall all the way to the back of the second round when the Seahawks ended his draft fall.

As Pete mentioned, Rice’s early career had many challenging moments. He had a hard time with the transition from Mississippi to San Francisco well, saying when he got off the plane he wanted to go right home. He admitted he was scared “thinking through every step of (49ers head coach Bill Walsh’s) complicated offense” instead of using natural reactions.

During a two-drop, one fumble performance against the Chiefs, Walsh explained that he’d had a “personal crisis” on the sidelines. It was a game that made Rice – a barehanded receiver in college who started wearing gloves to emulate successful veterans – to ditch the mitts.

Complicating things more? An outcry that he was taking targets away from veteran Freddie Solomon, who the year before had caught touchdown passes in 10- straight games. He had 15 dropped passes as a rookie, prompting The Mercury News to once write a headline of “Snap, Crackle, Drop.” And about halfway through 1985, he had just 18 catches for 295 yards, less than the aforementioned Eddie Brown, who had 29 for 469. That prompted another sportswriting gem from Tom FitzGerald, who wrote that “Rice may have to cook a little longer.”

Yes. The great Jerry Rice was not always the great Jerry Rice. At least for half a season.

Rice finished his rookie year STRONG, especially in a 10-catch, 241-yard performance in Week 14 against the Rams. He finished the season with 49 catches for 927 yards, earning NFC Rookie of the Year from UPI (Brown got the award from the AP). Rice led the league in receiving with 86 catches for 1,570 yards and 15 touchdowns his second season in the league, though it’s worth noting that he had a DK-like Dallas-esque fumble early in the NFC Championship against the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

Metcalf’s rookie season struggles didn’t draw the same scrutiny as Rice, though he had some of the same problems. Drops. Fumbles. But like Rice, he finished the season on an absolute tear, marked by a career best seven-catch, 160-yard plus a touchdown Wild Card performance against the Eagles.

I’ve long heard that NFL wide receivers make their biggest jump between their first and second seasons. Based on my eyes and DK’s eye-popping stats, we’re clearly witnessing it. But just to make sure, I asked the two NFL wide receiver co-hosts I’ve worked with – our friend and former Seahawk Michael Bumpus, and former Jaguar, Texan and Buccaneer Cecil Shorts III – a couple of questions:

Is the year one to year two jump the most important year/offseason of a young receiver’s career? If so, why?

Bump: “There is. You understand how to practice. How to prepare mentally and physically. You also learn what the expectations are and what your role is on a team. You have a foundation to build off.”

Cecil: “That offseason’s extremely important. Now you’re a vet. You understand what’s expected, what you need to work on and now it’s go time. No more excuses that you’re a rookie. Can you play or not? Have you learned how to be a pro and study? Take care of your body? Talk to media? It’s a huge offseason, and a new class is coming to take your spot.

What’s the next step for DK Metcalf if he wants to become a “superstar”?

Bump: “DK has to eliminate drops and learn to move defenders more in his route running. He is big and fast enough to take on contact with his releases and in the middle of his routes. He can make life easier for him if he can understand what defenders are trying to take away, and use that against them. Also, to threaten what they are trying to protect.”

Cecil: “Stay consistent. Great players are consistently good and make great plays when needed. He’s on his way to being special. VERY special. Route running is important. The faster you learn how to run good routes, the longer you’ll last because you’re not dependent on athletic ability. Reggie Wayne and others played so long because they knew how to get open when they couldn’t run as fast anymore.”

He’s checking all those boxes above. But superstardom isn’t just about what happens on the field. Just ask Odell Beckham Jr.

“There’s a lot more than just trying hard, playing good, and making some plays,” said Pete Carroll at his Monday press conference. “There’s expectations, pressure, outside influences, and all kinds of stuff that DK is dealing with and has to deal with. And he has to find his way to balance all that out, to sort it out.”

Pete would know. He saw it first hand, both at USC and with the Hawks. And like Cecil said above, he believes finding that consistency could help DK take off to heights unknown.

“He hasn’t had enough success yet to know that (rhythm of consistency) yet,” continued Pete. “He’s still working. But he’s available to learn that. He’s really bright. And he cares so much. I wish everybody knew him like we know him. He’s a beautiful kid, and really exciting to watch.”

We’re witnessing something special with young DK Metcalf. He’s made that year one to year two leap. He hasn’t come down. Hell, he’s still shooting up.

And while comparisons to Seahawks great (hehe) Jerry Rice sound insane when you first hear them, let them marinate for a bit. We’re talking about a 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound, incredibly fast, contact seeking, chip-on-his-shoulder, hardworking, tough 22-year-old athlete. Do you really want to be the guy that puts a ceiling over this rocket?

Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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