“10.5ish If He Has a Good Race” — Ato Boldon Assesses DK Metcalf’s 100-Meter Chances at the USATF Golden Games
By Jonathan Gault
May 5, 2021
A few days after Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf chased down Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker on Sunday Night Football last October — you know the clip — Ato Boldon felt the urge to tweet.
He had seen this before. Not this specific play, but this phenomenon. Football player — or soccer player, or rugby player — flashes speed in a GIF-worthy play, and the hype machine springs into action. Player X is proclaimed to have “track speed” as fans wonder if he could make it to the Olympics. Player X’s top speed is recorded and, inevitably, an out-of-context comparison to Usain Bolt is drawn. Boldon’s hope was that his tweet would contextualize the speed Americans had witnessed that Sunday on their widescreens.
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“‘10.4 second’ NFL guy runs down ‘10.6 second’ NFL guy,” Boldon wrote to his 130,000+ followers, adding, in parentheses, “Amazing play BTW, don’t get me wrong.”
If you speak track, you know 10.4 is a great time for a high school 100-meter runner, a solid time for a collegiate 100-meter runner (10.40 currently ranks 84th in the NCAA during the 2021 season), and…well, it’s not really worth discussing how it ranks among professional 100-meter runner, because no professional 100-meter runner is running 10.4 (worldwide, 468 men broke 10.4 in 2019).
10.4 is not Metcalf’s personal best, just Boldon’s estimate of what he might be capable of, should he ever suit up for a serious 100-meter attempt. Now that attempt is actually happening: Metcalf will line up for the 100 at Sunday’s USATF Golden Games at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. The meet will air live on NBC, and Boldon, a four-time Olympic sprint medalist for Trinidad & Tobago, will be in the booth calling the race.
(Note: The 100m preliminary rounds will be contested before the NBC broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. ET, which means Metcalf’s race will be streamed live on USATF.TV and Peacock at 3:32 p.m. ET. NBC will replay Metcalf’s prelim, tape-delayed, and the 100m final will be shown live on NBC at 5:03 p.m. ET).
Ahead of Sunday, Boldon has slightly backed off his October prediction for Metcalf.
“He’ll run something 10.5ish if he has a good race,” Boldon tells LetsRun.com. “If not, it’s gonna be slower.”
But don’t confuse Boldon’s rational analysis for a lack of excitement. He can’t wait to see how Metcalf fares against a field that includes Great Britain’s CJ Ujah (2017 Diamond League champion), Christopher Belcher (3rd at the US championships in 2017 and 2019), and Ronnie Baker (9.87 personal best).
“I’m very excited,” Boldon says. “Because I think that a lot of what I said on social media when the play happened, people saw it as, Oh, the track guys are hating on the football players again. I’m like, no, it’s exactly the opposite. I just want don’t want you guys out here sounding stupid, because people should know — at my network and other networks. I mean, they were ready to crown him — Olympic this, USA track & field team. What are you guys even talking about?”
If there’s anyone who might have an idea of how fast Metcalf might be able to cover 100 meters, it’s Boldon. In addition to calling races for NBC, Boldon serves as a sprint expert at TEST Football Academy, where he helps NFL prospects improve their 40-yard dash ahead of pro days and the NFL Combine. He’s worked with dozens of players who have gone on to the NFL and has also coached Olympic sprinte medalists. He knows the difference between football speed and world-class speed.
“The problem is that in most of the US population, people go, Well he used to run 10.3 in high school, so if he had kept going, he was gonna be on the Olympic team. It’s like, what are you guys even talking about? What are you talking about? There is a disconnect in America as to what world-class speed is. 10.3 and 10.2 is not world-class speed. I don’t think 10.1 is. When you get to 10.0, then call me.”
Of the NFL prospects he’s worked with, Boldon says Patrick Peterson, now a cornerback with the Minnesota Vikings, and Da’Rel Scott, a running back with the New York Giants from 2011-13, are the two who have come the closest to possessing “world-class” speed.
“But it’s funny: you never hear me as a broadcaster say, Oh my god, that guy has such incredible speed on the track, he could go be an NFL wide receiver tomorrow. And why do I not do that? Because there is a difference between being fast and being a good NFL wide receiver. In the same way, there’s a difference between having lots of football speed and being able to be an Olympic athlete. And I don’t understand why the disconnect happens in one direction when it doesn’t really happen in the other.”
Part of the reason broadcasters and fans are fond of making the NFL-Olympic connection is that, every so often, an athlete comes along who possesses both world-class speed and the football ability to make it in the NFL. Bob Hayes won the 100m at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and went on to a Hall of Fame career as a Dallas Cowboys wide receiver. Renaldo Nehemiah (three world records) and Willie Gault (1983 World Championship bronze medal) were among the world’s best 110-meter hurdlers in the 1980s and both earned Super Bowl rings as NFL wide receivers (Nehemiah with the San Francisco 49ers, Gault with the Chicago Bears).
But that doesn’t mean everyone can pull double duty. Metcalf, like many NFL players, has a solid track background, running 14.89 for the 110 hurdles to finish second at the Mississippi 5A state meet in 2016. But he doesn’t have a 100m pb listed from high school, and didn’t compete in track at all during three years at Ole Miss. Much of the talk since Metcalf’s announcement on Monday has been about whether he can qualify for the Olympic Trials, but that would require him to run somewhere in the 10.1s — and that’s not happening (the auto standard is 10.05).
The fact that Metcalf is even running on Sunday is a win-win for everyone involved. Track & field gets some much-needed eyeballs on a nationally-televised meet — “that clip is going to make every single sports show in America; that does not happen often [in track],” Boldon says — and Metcalf gets to test himself against some of the fastest men on the planet.
“I give him immense credit because I’ve been in this business a long time,” Boldon says. “I have a ton of NFL clients. Most of them talk it, but they don’t really want to line up. And to me, he’s already separated himself from 99% of them, because he is not just saying it on social media.”
Start will be the biggest challenge for Metcalf
The most pressing issue facing Metcalf is a physics problem. Even by NFL standards, Metcalf is a specimen, standing 6-4 and weighing in at a muscled 229 pounds.
“That’s a lot of mass to get moving,” Boldon says.
It’s difficult to find exact weights for the world’s best sprinters — internet estimates tend to vary widely — but Boldon does not believe any of them have topped 200 pounds.
“I would guess that the biggest we’ve seen with any success was probably [1992 Olympic 100m champion] Linford Christie in his prime, and I’m pretty sure Linford was a lean 190-something. That’s a 30-pound difference. That might as well be the Grand Canyon…Bolt was like 189. Sprinters over 200 pounds at a world-class level, making finals and stuff? They don’t exist.”
So even if Metcalf masters the intricacies of starting blocks and reacting to the gun, he will be giving up time at the start. But that’s not the only area that could prove problematic. Believe it or not, playing wide receiver in the NFL isn’t the best way to train for a 100-meter dash. NFL receivers are used to running routes that take three or four seconds to unfold, many of which involve cutting across the field. There is no route that requires them to run 100 meters in a straight line. One of the key skills of a top sprinter — reaching top speed and trying to maintain it for as long as possible — is never tested.
And that is the area Boldon would have worked the most to improve had he been in charge of Metcalf’s preparations. The ideal training, he says, would have been similar to what an elite sprinter might work on in their base phase in the fall or winter, where the aim is to work on speed maintenance.
“He would have had to have a serious program where you’re running 300’s and 200’s and 100’s and 150’s and maybe in the last couple weeks he’s been worrying about his starts and so on,” Boldon says. “But the truth is, the bulk of what has to get done for a guy like that is to get his system ready to hold his top-end speed in the middle of a race.”
So how fast will Metcalf run on Sunday? Boldon, like the rest of us, is eager to see. And he knows one thing. After Sunday’s race, there won’t be any need for armchair experts to tweet hypotheticals about Metcalf’s potential and how he might stack up against some of the world’s top sprinters. The results will be right there on the screen.
Talk about Metcalf’s chances on the world famous LetsRun.com messageboard / fan forum: MB: DK Metcalf track race on May 9th??
Want to hear more about Metcalf? Go to the 49:00 mark of this week’s podcast and hear the LetsRun.com crew breakdown his chances.
More NFL talk from the LetsRun.com archives:
2007: MB: I need names of famous football players who ran track in HS
2009: MB: NFL players that competed in track and field
2009: MB: Ridiculous sprint workout for NFL receivers…..
2012/16: MB: What is the average 100m time for Wide Receivers in the NFL?
2017: 8 of The NFL’s First 9 Draft Picks Were Track and Field Athletes In High School – How Good Could the First-Round Picks in the 2017 NFL Draft Have Been Had They Stuck With Track & Field?
Some Past LRC Sprint features:
2016: The Rebirth Of Yohan Blake
2018: Icon in the Making: Why Noah Lyles Could Be the Next Face of Track & Field