On Oct. 27, 2019, DK Metcalf held up Julio Jones’ jersey and smiled for a photo. At midfield inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Jones did the same. Moments earlier, the Seahawks had wrapped up a 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons — in a game that featured two Metcalf touchdowns, as well as 10 catches and 152 receiving yards from Jones.
Now, the pair of statuesque receivers — who looked more like the Fox Sports football robot, Cleatus, than the majority of their peers — exchanged jerseys and handshakes.
It was a comparison come to life.
“That’s a big dude, man,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said on NFL Network less than a year earlier, while he watched Metcalf run through receiver drills at the NFL combine. “Watching him run that (4.33-second 40-yard dash), that was like, ‘Oh my God.’
“I’ve always said Julio Jones is God’s gift to receivers — what he looks like, what he plays like. This dude right here, Metcalf, might be the second coming. That boy there is … hoo … that’s a physical specimen.”
Fast-forward to last month, when first-year Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar was asked for an immediate impression of Metcalf.
“Watching from the sidelines, that guy looks amazing,” Dunbar said with a disbelieving grin. “He looks like Julio out there.”
Of course, appearances can be deceiving — but maybe not in this case. Behold the measurables and rookie statistics for both Metcalf and Jones, who each stormed onto the scene from the Southeastern Conference.
Julio Jones | 2011 | 22 years old | 6-3 | 220 pounds
13 games | 13 starts | 95 targets | 54 catches | 959 receiving yards | 17.8 yards per reception | 8 TD
DK Metcalf | 2019 | 22 years old | 6-4 | 229 pounds
16 games | 15 starts | 100 targets | 58 catches | 900 receiving yards | 15.5 yards per reception | 7 TD
Don’t forget, either, that Metcalf added another 11 catches and 219 yards with a touchdown in the Seahawks’ two playoff games last winter. Jones piled up seven catches and 77 total yards in a playoff game his rookie year as well.
From any angle, the similarities are inescapable. But it’ll take more than a promising first impression for Metcalf to continue to close the gap. Jones, 31, has grown into a seven-time Pro Bowler (with six consecutive selections) who has demonstrated a remarkably consistent string of success. The former Alabama standout has recorded no fewer than 83 catches and 1,394 receiving yards in each of his past six seasons, while appearing in 14 or more games every year along the way.
In his second season in Atlanta in 2012, Jones improved his production in just about every area — logging 79 catches, 1,198 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 16 games.
So what does Metcalf have to do to keep pace?
“I know I had a few drops last year that I’ve got to clean up and just expanding my role in the offense,” he said last month of his goals for 2020. “I know I was just getting my feet wet with everything and the offense and being in the league. (Now) it’s just taking the next step.”
Metcalf did record a relatively modest seven drops last season on 100 total targets, an area where the colossal pass-catcher can certainly improve. And as far as Metcalf’s role in the Seahawks’ offense, Brian Schottenheimer says that shouldn’t be an issue.
“Obviously he’s always been extremely intelligent,” the Seahawks offensive coordinator told reporters last month. “We can move him around. But just his expectation, his standard … it’s no mistake. He’s obviously tremendously talented. But this guy is an unbelievable worker. He wants to be great. He wants to be one of the best of all time.
“He doesn’t win every matchup. But when he doesn’t win the matchup, he takes it personally. He doesn’t shy away. He wants to jump back up there. Sometimes these guys that are really great players and they’re young, after having some success in other places they tend to kind of relax a little bit. They step out of line for one-on-ones, or they step out of line in a competitive two-minute period. This guy doesn’t take any plays off. This guy absolutely attacks his job. He just attacks it. The look in his eye, the way he works has been pretty awesome.”
Granted, the Seahawks don’t need Metcalf to assume all available targets, either. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also has reliable wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who recently called his partnership with Metcalf “something that’s very special.” He also has an array of pass-catching options that include wide receivers David Moore, Phillip Dorsett and the returning Josh Gordon, as well as tight ends Greg Olsen, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister.
In other words, the Seahawks don’t need Metcalf to be “one of the best of all time” — like, say, Julio Jones — just yet. But they do need him to keep getting better.
And they also need him to lead.
“I kind of challenged him the other day,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s earned the right to speak up more, and our guys on offense respect him. He’s earned that right to call guys out and try to bring them along. If the tempo is maybe down in practice, he’s earned that right. I told him, more than that, we need his voice in that regard. That’s how much I respect him as a football player and as a worker.”
In the season opener Sept. 13, Metcalf will have an opportunity to show that all the work paid off.
And, fittingly, he’ll do so against the Falcons — and Julio Jones.