Seahawks' DK Metcalf projects greatness with performance vs. Stephon Gilmore

DK Metcalf was the first receiver to score a touchdown with Stephon Gilmore as the nearest defender in coverage since 2018. Elaine Thompson/AP

SEATTLE -- DK Metcalf made his case as one of the NFL's best young wide receivers last season when he followed up a 900-yard regular season for the Seattle Seahawks with a 160-yard performance in the playoffs, a rookie record for the Super Bowl era.

If you weren't convinced then, how about now?

Metcalf is proving to be hard to ignore and harder to defend, even for the game's top cornerbacks. He had the full attention last week of coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, who had Stephon Gilmore follow him around CenturyLink Field for most of Sunday night’s game. Metcalf delivered four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks' 35-30 win.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Gilmore -- the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year -- was lined up across from Metcalf on 26 of the 30 routes he ran. Gilmore was the nearest defender in coverage on three of Metcalf's catches, which totaled 85 yards -- including a 54-yard touchdown.

"He respected that he had a chance, thinking that the best guy in the league would be covering him and he didn’t back off for one second to go for it the whole game, from start to finish," coach Pete Carroll said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. "He did not back down and he was physical and tough. Blocking-wise, he took just as much pride in his blocking as he did in his route running and his catching."

The highlight of Metcalf's night was the grown-man touchdown he scored on a deep heave from quarterback Russell Wilson. With Gilmore hanging on to him, Metcalf made an over-the-shoulder catch, then broke free on his way to the end zone, showing he has plenty of strength to go along with his 4.33-second speed over 40 yards.

It was reminiscent of Metcalf running by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox, then dragging him into the end zone on a 53-yard touchdown catch in last season's wild-card victory.

The difference is that this one came against arguably the league's best cornerback. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was the first touchdown Gilmore had allowed as the nearest defender in coverage since 2018. Last season, he saw a league-high 96 targets without allowing a score.

Carroll liked how Metcalf kept his cool even as the two were locking horns during the game, and he tipped his cap to Gilmore after. They had to be separated in the third quarter when a Metcalf block carried Gilmore into Seattle's bench. Metcalf said the matchup with Gilmore was the most physical he has had with a defensive back in his career.

"You're seeing the emergence of a great player," Carroll said. "It's because of his mentality ... He's got all the physical skills that you want. But like I've said, he recognizes it, so he's going for it. So I'm really proud of him. I'm proud of the way he's handling himself. He's not going to get too full of himself. He's going to be humble through the whole thing, which gives him a chance to be really great."

Metcalf's 187 receiving yards through two games ranks seventh in the NFL. He has reached that total with eight catches on 14 targets, which illustrates the most obvious area in which his game can improve: efficiency. His 58 catches last season came on 99 targets for a catch rate of 58.6%, which ranked 57th among wide receivers, per ESPN charting. That's right around the same rate (57.1%) he has posted through two games.

Two of the targets Metcalf failed to haul in were drops in Week 1. The first one didn't deter Wilson from going back to him on a third-down play they converted later in the drive. Wilson went back to Metcalf on a fourth-and-5 play later in the game that resulted in a 38-yard touchdown, another sign of the trust he has earned from his quarterback.

"We spent so much time together in the offseason, just quality time, the hours upon hours, isolated in a way, just spending time together, and it's showing up for him and it's showing up for us as a team," Wilson said after the New England game. "I think DK's work ethic, I think DK's professionalism, his focus, all the way from the Zoom meetings to us preparing one-on-one together, all the way to just who he is as a person, high character, just obviously to his talent as well, and it all comes together as one."

Tyler Lockett led the way with seven catches Sunday night and has been Seattle's leading receiver in each of the past two seasons. Through two games this year, it's been more of a 1a and 1b split. Lockett has 15 catches on 16 targets while playing 94.4% of the offensive snaps compared to eight catches, 14 targets and 99.2% for Metcalf.

"He wants to be great; he wants to be the best in the world at what he does," Wilson said of Metcalf. "I think that we got some of the top receivers in the game with Tyler and DK, and honestly they need more respect in terms of just what they have been able to do consistently and over and over again. DK's been unbelievable in what he's been able to do as a rookie coming in last year and then obviously what he's been able do this year so far."