“Some people in the league, they only know how to play one position, and to me that’s the fastest way to be out,” said Lockett, whose father, Kevin, played for four teams during a seven-year career. “… The biggest thing that I was taught growing up, it’s all about value, and the more that you could be able to do, the harder it is for people to get rid of you.”
Lockett is in no danger of being shown the door anytime soon. He’s coming off a career season that included 10 touchdown receptions, and he’s under contract through 2021 after signing an extension last summer that averages $10.25 million per season. But Lockett is still trying to do more. He’s trying to master the finer points of the slot position during offseason work with the expectation that he’ll be used there more often in Doug Baldwin‘s absence.
The release of Baldwin means Lockett is now quarterback Russell Wilson‘s clear-cut No. 1 receiver, a role he began ascending to last season as Baldwin dealt with one injury after another. And it will likely mean more work for Lockett out of the slot.
Any receiver playing in an offense as run-heavy as Seattle’s will have a hard time producing All-Pro numbers in the volume stats like catches, yards and touchdowns. But arguably no receiver was more efficient last season than Lockett.
Wilson had a perfect passer rating and didn’t throw an interception on any of his 70 targets to Lockett. According to the NFL, no other quarterback since 2002 has posted a perfect rating when targeting a specific receiver more than 15 times. Lockett didn’t drop a pass and finished second among receivers in catching 83.8 percent of the balls thrown his way.
And as one would expect, the ball came his way more often when Baldwin was sidelined. He averaged 6.33 targets over the three full games Baldwin missed compared to 3.92 targets in his other 13 games.
“I think a way to be able to build off that is now being able to work on being uncomfortable,” Lockett said when asked about his rapport with Wilson and the perfect-passer-rating feat. “Obviously, we were very comfortable in the roles, in the positions that we ran last year, and we allowed ourselves to be successful. But now some of those things that we haven’t really done together that we’re working on, some routes that I haven’t really gotten to run like that because I wasn’t in the slot as much, now it’s being able to go off of that.”
Not that Lockett is at all unfamiliar with the slot position. In fact, Lockett has lined up inside on almost as many snaps over the past two seasons as he has on the outside, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He frequently moved inside during his first two seasons when Seattle would split Baldwin out wide.
But it’s an adjustment from one position to the other. There’s a wider range of routes run from the slot because of the extra space away from the sideline. Nickelbacks are built more like the receivers they’re covering — smaller and quicker (think former Seahawks Justin Coleman and Jeremy Lane) as opposed to their counterparts on the outside who are often bigger and stronger (think Richard Sherman and Shaquill Griffin). The coverages can be different, too.
“Sometimes you get doubled, sometimes you get bracketed, sometimes it’s harder to be able to see the defense whenever you’re in the slot because you’re used to playing on the outside [and] it’s easier to see the whole field,” Lockett said. “… Routes in the slot are way different than running routes on the outside. You’ve got to use different releases. You can be able to do a little more freewheel-type stuff. But you’ve got different places that you have to be at at a particular amount of time.”
In their first season under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the Seahawks ran the fifth-most plays with at least three receivers on the field, an alignment they used on about 73 percent of their offensive snaps. How often Lockett finds himself in the slot likely depends to some degree on how Seattle’s other options for that role develop. Keenan Reynolds, the former Navy quarterback who has bounced between practice squads and active rosters during his three NFL seasons, backed up Baldwin last season. He’s had a strong offseason, according to Schottenheimer. Seventh-round pick John Ursua played in the slot at Hawaii, as did undrafted rookie Terry Wright at Purdue. Fourth-round pick Gary Jennings played inside and outside at West Virginia.
“The best weapon for us is when they don’t know where Tyler is going to be, so we’ll move him around,” Schottenheimer said. “He can do so many things so well. He sees the game instinctively so well that he’s a hard matchup.”
Lockett has been Seattle’s primary punt and kickoff returner since his rookie season in 2015, when he was named a first-team All-Pro as a specialist. But the Seahawks might want to dial back his return duties now that they’ll be asking more of him on offense. For his part, Lockett firmly answered in the affirmative when asked if he still wants to return kicks.
You know, the more you can do.
Schottenheimer was asked if the rookie receivers — DK Metcalf, Jennings, Ursua, Wright and fellow undrafted free agent Jazz Ferguson — can help ease the loss of Baldwin. But that will fall on Lockett more than anyone.
“The NFL is change, right? And that’s part of the deal,” Schottenheimer said. “But we certainly believe so. We believe that adding those guys to the guys that we had — David Moore coming off of a good year last year — is exciting. … Of course, Tyler, monster year last year, he’s going to lead the charge.”