LeBron James said it best in an Instagram story, which is the Bartlett’s Quotations of modern times.
“We Built Different.”
Good players come along all the time. Great players arrive less frequently, and are certainly to be coveted and savored, but they don’t alight in your brain, take root, and never leave, providing a perpetual highlight reel playing on a continuous loop in your mind’s eye.
That’s the realm of the transcendent and the genuine prodigies — like LeBron James. And, as the old saying goes, game recognizes game. Which is how King James happened to be tweeting his official stamp of approval of DK Metcalf on Sunday, right after the latest gravity-defying, jaw-dropping play by the Seahawks’ second-year receiver.
It was 46-yard touchdown reception that showed off Metcalf’s nifty moves, his blinding speed, and his uncanny agility, not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily one at a time.
In baseball parlance, Metcalf is a five-tool player, and those are three of them. You could throw in as Tool No. 4 his excellent route running (despite the criticism of just that coming out of Ole Miss that helped lead to eight receivers being picked ahead of Metcalf in the 2019 NFL draft).
The fifth, and probably most auspicious, Metcalf tool, at least when assessing his long-term future, is an all-encompassing intangible that I’ll call his “will to be great.” That’s a wide tent that includes work ethic, smarts, swagger and intimidation.
On that particular play, Metcalf left a procession of 49ers defenders grasping at air, then somehow stayed inbounds after taking a sharp left turn toward the end zone and skirting the sideline all the way.
It moved James enough to dub Metcalf, “Baby Bron,” after he noted that the two of them are simply wired differently than most.
Metcalf is still a work in progress, of course, so I’ll try not to get too carried away. I mean, he’s just 22, with a mere 25 NFL games on his résumé. His career could be like one of those movies that begins with the most exciting chase scene you’ve ever seen, and then devolves in a snoozefest of stilted dialogue.
But I don’t think so, and I suspect, neither do you. Sometimes you just know. And DK Metcalf appears to be touched with the stuff of not goodness, not greatness, but preeminence.
We should appreciate what we are witnessing in front of our very eyes — the unfurling of a superstar who could well dominate the sport for years to come. One who can do things that mere mortals — those not built like him — are incapable of.
For a sports fan, there’s not much more exciting than that. Metcalf is unique in the same way that Shawn Kemp, or Ken Griffey Jr., or Randy Johnson, or Ichiro, or Lauren Jackson, was unique. They did things that a precious few peers could.
Mind you, this is aesthetically different than, say, a Russell Wilson, who is a star of the highest magnitude in the NFL, and as skilled a quarterback as exists. Or Sue Bird, who has been consistently brilliant for pushing two decades.
I liked the words of Fox analyst Mark Schlereth in the broadcast Sunday to differentiate Metcalf: “DK Metcalf is an absolute freak. In a league of freaks, he’s the freakiest of freaks.”
Never was that more apparent than the Arizona game, when Metcalf blazed down the field in pursuit of Budda Baker after the Arizona defensive back had intercepted a Wilson pass, with dreams of a Pick Six dancing in his head.
I’ve watched the video countless times, and the staggering amount of ground Metcalf made up, the blur of motion that was seemingly on fast forward but no, it was real time, seems impossible upon each viewing. But every single time, this gigantic man, through sheer will and the physical gifts imbued in him, runs down Baker.
I’m not going to say it’s the single most impressive athletic feat I’ve ever witnessed, but I’m not ruling out the possibility, either. Certainly, it’s in the top three, and the other two don’t jump immediately to mind.
“In my mind, that is something that I was supposed to do, not just an epic play that the world just saw,’’ Metcalf said after Sunday’s game, the first time he spoke about it publicly.
When your goal is to make the epic appear mundane, you’re cut from different cloth. It’s that “wow” factor — an exclamation that he forces you to utter virtually every game — that separates Metcalf even more than the statistics. He caught 12 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday and is on pace for 82 receptions, 1,554 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, which in the case of the latter two, would be club records.
But numbers are antiseptic and lifeless. DK Metcalf is about vitality and action and turning football moves into performance art. He lives to do things that make you wonder how someone so big could be so fast, and vice versa.
Now comes the fun part — watching all this unfold, week by week, year by year, and seeing if Metcalf can maintain this ascendancy. In fact, some say we’ve seen only a fraction of his potential, and that’s conceivable based on the vast improvement he’s made already in such a short amount of time.
It’s possible too much hype is being thrust upon Metcalf too soon. We should have patience and allow room for growth and maturity. This is, after all, the same guy who had a sure touchdown punched out of his hands when he celebrated too early against the Cowboys. And in successive years, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson has tailed Metcalf and nearly taken him out of the Seattle offense.
But when Metcalf keeps making spectacular plays, it’s hard to reel in the expectations. On rare occasions, you just have to concede that some people are indeed built different.