NFL’s DK Metcalf Tackles 100-Meter Challenge At Golden Games Meet

by Karen Rosen

DK Metcalf #14 of the Seattle Seahawks breaks a tackle from Nik Needham #40 of the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 4, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Fla.


It’s an age-old question that can’t be settled by tweet, only by feet: How does football speed compare to track speed?
We’ll see on Sunday, when DK Metcalf, the Seattle Seahawks’ wide receiver considered one of the fastest players in cleats, races professional sprinters in the 100-meter dash at the USATF Golden Games and Distance Open in Walnut, California. 
Metcalf’s ultimate goal is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field in June and then for Team USA at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
He’ll actually run twice Sunday...if he makes it out of the first round.
Bragging rights are on the line. It’s survival of the fleetest.
“I’ve been waiting on this day,” said Mike Rodgers, an Olympic gold medalist in the 4 x 100-meter relay in 2012 and the 2019 Pan American Games champion in the 100. 
“They really talk all this trash on Twitter, but shoutout to DK for even coming out to experience this,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know his take on what he thinks his performance is going to be. This is May - this is the time that sprinters really get going because (the Olympic) trials is like a month away, so I’m anxious to see how his so-called ESPN world-class speed measures up against the real world-class speed.”
Metcalf, 23, hasn’t competed in a track meet since high school, when he was primarily a hurdler and triple jumper and also ran on relays. Football was his only sport at Ole Miss. 
“It’s like everybody’s hyping, ‘Oh, DK is going to do this,’” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to get through both rounds.This isn’t no all-comers meet; this is an elite track meet. And I hope the football audience understands that this is our job. This is what we do every day. So I hope he comes to play.”
Metcalf isn’t talking to media before the meet, but tweeted an 8-second video on May 3. Only his legs were shown as he walked on a track and dropped a pair of spikes with “May 9th” appearing on the screen. The clip already has about 291,000 views.
How It All Began
Track and field couldn’t have been further from Metcalf’s mind on Oct. 25, 2020, when the current situation was set in motion. He was more concerned with Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker, who intercepted a Seahawks pass at the 2-yard line and was headed for the end zone 98 yards away for a likely pick-6.
He didn’t make it. Metcalf chased Baker down, tackling him on the 8. The NFL tweeted that Metcalf was FREAKY FAST, noting that he traveled 114.8 yards and reached a top speed of 22.64 mph (while Baker’s top speed was 21.27 mph). And that was while wearing pads and a helmet. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called it “the play of the century.”
The next day, USA Track & Field tweeted, “For everyone asking if we have a spot open on our relay team for @dkm14, @NFL players are welcome to come test their speed against real speed next year at the Olympic Trials.”
Metcalf responded: “See you there” with a smiley face emoji.
His agent then reached out to USA Track & Field. This was serious.
“DK’s agent told us that he really wants to try to make the Olympics and asked what steps he needs to take,” USATF official Adam Schmenk told Yahoo Sports. 
Well, for starters Metcalf needed to run a qualifying time in a sanctioned USATF event. Schmenk said the organization “would help him find a lane if and when he wanted to do this.”
In January, after Seattle lost in the playoffs, Metcalf’s agent called Schmenk to say his client was pivoting to track. Schmenk suggested some coaches and training sites, noting to Yahoo Sports that it “sounds like he went to Arizona.”
That brings us to this weekend, with USATF finding a lane for Metcalf in the 100. 
The automatic qualifying standard for the Olympic Games and the Olympic trials (with a legal wind reading) is 10.05 seconds, although 10.16 made the trials cut in 2016. Team USA’s Olympic relay pool is typically composed of at least six athletes.
Publicity for Track and Field
Rai Benjamin, who will run the 400-meter hurdles at the Golden Games, said the attention Metcalf is garnering is “really good for the sport right now. I love it. I think it’s going to bring an entirely new generation to the sport, new people to the sport, and have them see, ‘OK, This is what real speed looks like.’”
The world championships silver medalist said he has noticed the back-and-forth between the track and field community and NFL players for the past couple of years about “who’s actually fast and who’s not.”
In the run-up to the Super Bowl in February 2020, Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs said he had Olympic aspirations, but admitted he’d have to lose weight to approach his personal best, a wind-aided 9.98 seconds during high school. Unlike Metcalf, Hill, whose Twitter handle is @cheetah, competed for Team USA on a world junior team.
Over the years, 34 track and field athletes have participated in the Olympic Games and also played in the NFL, although the usual trajectory is Olympics first and then football.
“By no means am I discounting DK; I think he’s a phenomenal athlete,” said Benjamin, who clocked 10.03 seconds in a rare 100-meter appearance last summer. “It takes a lot of guts and heart to actually come out and line up against the guys that are going to be there this weekend.”
Besides Rodgers, the Golden Games field also includes Kyree King, who posted a time of 9.97 in April, and several other sprinters who have met the 10.05 qualifying standard since Jan. 1, 2019.
These sprinters will be running for pride, with the whole sport depending on them to maintain its reputation.
Raven Saunders, a 2016 Olympian in the shot put who also attended Ole Miss, tweeted “All respect to @dkm14 in the @NFL but about to get dusted” with three laughing emojis.
She followed up with, “Whoever in that 100 better turn up all the jets so we can end this football speed vs track speed debate bc I already started some mess and y’all ain’t gone have me out here looking silly.”
Harvey Glance, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist who twice equalled the world record in the 100 meters when he ran at Auburn University, compared Metcalf to football players from his era who dabbled in track: Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker.
“I always felt like if I raced those guys I was in jeopardy of losing not just the race, but my credibility as a world-class athlete,” Glance said. “They have full advantage over you because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I promise you, we dug down.”
He sees a similar scenario on Sunday.
Extra Motivation
“I know if I’m a sprinter in this meet, I am insulted that someone is coming on my turf,” Glance said. “The motivation should certainly be there. It should be offensive to all those guys who call themselves world-class athletes and sprinters to have someone come in their backyard and disrupt, so I’m watching it from that perspective to see how these athletes perform.”
Rodgers, 36, who turned pro in 2007, said he scouted Metcalf by looking at video of the 2019 NFL combine where the wide receiver ran the 40-yard dash in a swift 4.33 seconds. 
Metcalf “was kind of tapping out going across that line,” Rodgers said, “so adding 60-70 meters onto the 40 yards that he was running is going to be hard to deal with.”
The two-time national outdoor champion thinks the biggest challenge Metcalf will face is the start, where he has to deal with the timing of the starter – one false start and you’re out – and the blocks.
Rodgers also said football players have not been trained in distributing their speed as they power down the straightaway, including the mechanics of the drive phase and acceleration phase.
With Metcalf standing 6-foot-4, even if he shows up under his playing weight of 235 pounds, “He will look like a monster compared to some of these little guys,” said Glance.
He's only an inch shorter than Usain Bolt, the three-time Olympic champion in the 100 and world record holder from Jamaica.
On Feb. 2, 2019, Bolt tied the NFL combine record for the 40-yard dash at 4.22 seconds while wearing sweatpants and sneakers as part of a Super Bowl party. (Wide receiver John Ross also ran 4.22 in 2017.) 
Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds from 2009 has been calculated at 23.486 miles per hour, but he runs different speeds at different stages of the race.
Glance said he saw what Metcalf did in hauling down Baker and was impressed, “but would he have caught a track and field guy from 2 or 3 meters down? I don’t know. If he’s running down a guy who has world-class speed, then this cat can really motor. But if you’re running down a guy who’s running 10.8 or 11 flat for 100 meters and you run 10.5, it doesn’t take a lot of work to do that.”
Baker ran his 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.45 seconds.
If Rodgers had to predict Metcalf’s time on Sunday, he said, “I give him the 10.3 over/under to be honest.”
But he added, “I don’t know if DK has been practicing. He could very well get to the warmup area and see guys running and say, ‘Awww, I’m not doing this.’ Until I see him line up in the blocks, it’s not real yet.”

Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to since 2009.