EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As a five-year veteran who played his first four seasons in the wide receiver-rich NFC South, James Bradberry has covered his share of tall, fast and athletic wideouts.
But it's likely the Giants' cornerback has never lined up against anyone quite like DK Metcalf. But that's what Bradberry will do Sunday, when the Giants face the Seattle Seahawks in Lumen Field.
"You don't have a lot of guys walking the earth like him," Giants coach Joe Judge said of Metcalf.
Certainly not in the NFL. Metcalf is a 6-4, 229-pounder who is enjoying a breakout second season. He leads the league with 1,039 receiving yards, is second among those with at least 50 catches with a 17.9-yard average (he has 58) and his 12 receptions of 30-plus yards are four more than anyone else has. Metcalf is fifth in the league with nine touchdown receptions. On Oct. 25, he made of the season's most memorable plays, sprinting from the end zone to catch Arizona safety Budda Baker and prevent him from scoring after a 90-yard interception return.
"A big monster out there catching a lot of passes from Russell Wilson," Giants defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said. "The young man is having a great year. Very productive, very explosive, and he and the quarterback have that rapport that the quarterback trusts him. He looks for him and he's finding him at a high level right now."
On Monday night in Philadelphia, the Eagles assigned cornerback Darius Slay to cover Metcalf. Slay was selected to the last three Pro Bowls but he had a long night as Metcalf caught 10 passes for 177 yards with a long reception of 52 yards. It was his fifth 100-yard game of the season, tying him with Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins and Houston's Will Fuller for the NFL lead. Metcalf is the rare receiver who often initiates contact instead of absorbing it.
"He's such a unique talent, in my opinion," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "The size, the ability to block in the run game. That's one that stands out for me. He's actually a point of attack blocker. Like you would say the left side of the line is the point of attack or right side of the line is a point of attack. He's a point of attack blocker in the run game. That stands out to me. I think what we have to do, we have to make it tough for him. We have to make it tough on him. Whether it's playing off coverage, press coverage. When he goes to block, get our hands on him. He's a unique talent. He's going to find a way to get open. That's the nature of it."
"We all understand this guy is a tremendous player," Judge said. "He's an elite player in the league. We can't do anything to just flat out replicate it, so we have to do the best we can in practice, and then prepare our guys mentally so when they see him on the field, they understand it's going to be different than what they've necessarily seen in practice."
When he played for the Carolina Panthers, Bradberry routinely covered premier receivers like New Orleans' Michael Thomas, Atlanta's Julio Jones and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans. His success against them was a big reason the Giants signed him to a lucrative free agent contract on March 26.
Bradberry is having an outstanding season while frequently matching up with the opponent's most productive wideout. His 15 passes defensed are seven more than any of his teammates have and are tied for second in the NFL and his three interceptions lead the Giants. Bradberry also has 32 tackles (26 solo), despite teams often avoiding him when throwing the ball.
"(When) I was in the NFC South, I had to deal with a lot of big physical receivers that could run," Bradberry said. "I would say he is similar to their skill set. Physical, 6'4", runs a 4.3. He can run. He's definitely a hard matchup. Definitely a challenge for us Sunday."
Bradberry said he saw "the highlights" from the game Monday night.
"He went against an elite cornerback in Darius Slay," Bradberry said. "I have a lot of respect for him. I just saw a physical guy that was strong, and he pretty much won a lot of 50/50 balls. When you're a physical, big receiver, the quarterback is going to give you leeway and throw it up to you. You have to go up there and make a play."
Some cornerbacks have been able to do that against Metcalf. On Nov. 15, Jalen Ramsey of the Rams was largely responsible for limiting Metcalf to 28 yards on just two catches.
"I think he guarded him well down the field," Bradberry said. "Especially on the deeper throws, like on the nine routes (deep down the middle) and stuff. From the past film that I've seen, that's pretty much where all his yardage comes from, on the deep throws, the nine routes. If you take that away from him, the explosive plays, I think you will do a pretty good job against him."
That's exactly what Bradberry and the Giants will try to do Sunday.
*Last week, Bradberry missed two days of practice for a personal matter, returned to the field Friday and helped hold Cincinnati receivers Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green to eight combined receptions for only 59 yards (Green did not have a catch). Judge awarded him a game ball "for the way he had to handle last week. He really made a lot of sacrifices and was able to combine personal adversity and some sacrifices to make sure he was still there for the team."
"It meant a lot," Bradberry said. "I knew they were going to allow me to go home. I handled the matter that I had at hand. It felt good coming back and being acknowledged for taking time away having to deal with a certain issue and then coming back and performing on Sunday. It always feels good when your coaches show you some attention. I knew I had to come back on Sunday and play ball. That's why I was locked in on Zoom meetings and stuff. It's part of the job. I want to be able to put my best foot forward when I step on the field on Sunday."
View photos of the history between the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks ahead of the Week 13 matchup.