Seahawks' DK Metcalf is the big receiver Pete Carroll always wanted

RENTON, Wash. -- On the Seattle Seahawks' first play from scrimmage Sunday in Pittsburgh, DK Metcalf threw out his 35-inch arms to snag a back-shoulder fade that quarterback Russell Wilson threw well behind him.

Two quarters later, Metcalf stiff-armed one defensive back and ran through another to pick up an extra 10 yards after a catch over the middle.

And with the Seahawks clinging to a two-point lead in the fourth quarter, the rookie wide receiver hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass without gaining much separation from the safety who was tightly covering him.

It was exactly what coach Pete Carroll has been searching for all these years.

The Seahawks coach has long had an affinity for big wide receivers. He has drafted them, thrown big money at them in free agency and plucked them from Canada and the NFL scrap heap. He has pulled out all the stops to try to lure them to Seattle -- even a private seaplane.

"Because we realize that they have an advantage," Carroll said Monday, a day after Metcalf scored his first career touchdown. "And the advantage kind of goes to the quarterback in the sense that when he sees big guys, they look open whether there's guys standing right next to them or not. And you can throw the ball right to guys whether there's guys right hip-to-hip on them and you can find space to throw the football."

As a defensive coach, Carroll appreciated how tough it is to cover a big receiver. It wasn't until Mike Williams arrived at USC to play for Carroll that he began to look at it from the offense's perspective. Williams set records as a true freshman in 2002 with 81 catches for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns, then topped those marks as a sophomore. It opened Carroll's eyes to the impact that a big receiver can have on a quarterback.

"After those first two years of just seeing that," Carroll said, "it was pretty obvious."

Carroll has been trying to replicate that since he arrived in Seattle in 2010, first with Williams himself. He hasn't had much sustained success.

Williams had one productive season before fizzling out. That same year, the Seahawks flew Brandon Marshall (6-foot-5) into their lakefront headquarters on a seaplane in an attempt to sign him as a restricted free agent. His career was on its last legs when they landed him in 2018. The Seahawks drafted Kris Durham (6-5) in 2011 and gave Sidney Rice (6-4) a big contract the same year, but Rice topped 500 yards in only one of his three seasons with Seattle.

They let 38-year-old Terrell Owens (6-3) compete for a roster spot in 2012 before giving it to Braylon Edwards (6-3), who didn't make it through the season. CFL import Chris Matthews (6-5) never stuck after his MVP-worthy performance in Super Bowl XLIX, nor did Stephen Williams (6-5) after leading the NFL in receiving during the 2013 preseason. Vincent Jackson (6-5) was linked to Seattle seemingly every time he became available.

Sure, most of the receivers the Seahawks have drafted under Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been 6-1 and shorter. There's a simple explanation: Receivers like Tyler Lockett and Golden Tate are way more plentiful than ones like Metcalf, who is 6-4 and 229 pounds with 4.33-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

"DK's a monster on the field," Wilson said after Metcalf's four-reception, 89-yard debut in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals. "He's as big as it gets. He can run, he can jump, he can catch, he makes the contested plays ... On the scramble drill, he made the contested slant route, he made the contested go ball. There's a lot of things he can do. There's nothing really that he can't do."

Criticisms of Metcalf's route running have been overblown, though that part of his game is a work in progress, as it is for most young receivers. Metcalf has also been flagged four times over the first two games, including a face mask penalty against Pittsburgh that thwarted a scoring chance. Three of those penalties were declined, including two for pass interference.

"For him, it's easy to run and to jump and to do all the things physically, and so the guys that are running with him aren't as big and they get shoved around," Nate Carroll, Seattle's receivers coach, said last week. "And so in this new age of instant replay on challenges, it's been a huge talking point between he and I, trying to make sure that he's legal. We're talking with the head of refs trying to make sure that I'm coaching it properly and telling him the right information."

Penalties aside, Metcalf's first two games have lived up to the hype that began building once Seattle traded up to draft him with the final pick of the second round. He made it back from Aug. 20 knee surgery to play in Seattle's opener, with his 89 yards breaking Steve Largent's club record for a rookie receiver in his debut. His 150 yards through two games leads the team, while his seven catches and 13 targets are third and second, respectively.

David Moore's return from a shoulder injury -- which could happen as early as this week against the New Orleans Saints -- could impact the targets among Seattle's receivers. It might not impact Metcalf all that much given how much trust he has already developed with Wilson.

"What a great start he's off to and we're thrilled about it," Carroll said postgame. "I think Russ went to him seven times today and we didn't get them all, but there's going to be a lot of hookups here coming up."