When the Seahawks picked Tyler Lockett in the third round of last year's draft, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider both talked about the Kansas State product's ability to help the team immediately as a returner, while taking more of a wait-and-see approach when it came to how he might contribute as a receiver.
Seahawks receivers coach Dave Canales was not buying the tempered expectations, however. Not after watching Lockett's tape from his playing days at Kansas State, and especially after talking to him at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"I thought it was kind of funny in a way, because a lot of people were like, 'Wow, wasn't that totally unexpected?'" Canales said. "I was like, 'No. The guy had like 1,500 yards, 11 touchdowns, teams always put their best corner on him, and he produced. He was their best receiver.' I wasn't surprised. I knew he'd fit right in."
Lockett's impressive rookie season did indeed see him play a big role in the return game, for which he earned both Pro-Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors as a returner, but he was also a huge part of the offense, finishing the year with 51 receptions for 664 yards and six touchdowns. For a little perspective on just how impressive Lockett was last season, consider that he is just the second rookie in NFL history, along with Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, to have a kickoff return touchdown, punt return touchdown and at least five touchdown receptions. Lockett's 1,915 all-purpose yards also established a franchise rookie record.
Like almost everyone involved in Seattle's passing game, Lockett really saw his production pick up in the second half of the season, closing the year with 30 catches for 404 yards and five touchdowns over the final seven games.
Yet as good as Lockett was as a rookie, he believes he is only scratching the surface of the kind of player he can be in the NFL.
"I still haven't played my game yet," Lockett said. "So that's what I've been working on—to be able to play the way that I did at Kansas State and play the way that I did in high school. I still haven't played that way yet. I look at all the success and accolades that God has blessed me with, and it's amazing to look at it and be thankful for it while also knowing that I haven't even been at my best yet.
"I just haven't played the game that I know that I can play as far as mentally just playing free. I know what I'm capable of doing, and I'm finding it more and more, it just takes time to be able to figure out what is it that gets you into that mindset."
Lockett isn't alone in believing that he has plenty of room for growth. Doug Baldwin has praised Lockett's upside from Day 1, and only sees more potential in him now. Lockett isn't a finished product, not yet anyway, which is why one of Baldwin's side projects this offseason was helping his young teammate improve on his releases at the line of scrimmage because, "He's so quick and so fast, there's no reason for guys to be able to put their hands on him at the line of scrimmage."
All along, Baldwin has said that Lockett is a more polished receiver than he was at this stage in his career, and he isn't backing down from that now as Lockett prepares for what a lot of people expect to be a big second season.
"He has elevated his game," Baldwin said. "I don't want to say the sky's the limit for him, because I don't think he has a limit. As long as he's taking care of his body, he has the work ethic and the talent that is unparalleled. We have very high hopes for him and he has high hopes for himself, high expectations for himself. The progress that he has made is unbelievable."
The work ethic that Baldwin mentions has been a big part of Lockett's early success. Canales first realized the kind of worker Lockett was when he studied his tape, noting that no college player could look that polished as a route-runner without putting in the work. Then when the two talked at the combine, the detail with which Lockett described his workouts was so thorough, Canales knew the young receiver was serious because of the detail involved—"He can't just make that up," Canales said.
"Then from the minute he got here, that's what he did," Canales said. "He was on the Jugs machine, he was catching balls, he was catching punts, he was working his cone drills before practice way before everybody else was out here. He showed up and just did what he said he had always done, and it didn't look hard for him, it looked like it was just part of his routine."
Even Russell Wilson, a player known for his no-time-to-sleep work ethic, was impressed when he saw Lockett arriving early for extra work last season, spending time in the team's indoor practice facility catching tennis balls to work on his hand-eye-coordination before 7 a.m.
Yet for all Lockett has done on the field early in his NFL career, he is also striving to be well-rounded off of it. Whether it's trying to live as a person of faith, or express himself through spoken-word poetry, or improve his video-editing skills—Lockett occasionally could be seen in the Seahawks digital media department in the offseason spending hours on a video—Lockett has spent time trying to be more than just a star athlete.
"I never just wanted to be a football player," Lockett said. "I wanted to be able to let out everything that God has blessed me with as far as ability. So if it was football, if it was spoken-word poetry, if it's just being able to talk in front of a multitude of people, whatever it is, I'm willing to go that route. If it's me being a person that people can look up to, that can inspire people, I want to do that too. There's more to me than just being a football player."
With rare physical traits and a work ethic that once made Carroll call him one of the team's hardest workers last season, it's easy to see why the Seahawks are so high on Lockett's potential. Now, the next step is just building off of what he did late last season as he and Wilson continue to grow their understanding of each other's games.
"Russell knows Tyler now, and he's getting used to the way he sets things up, the way he come out of his breaks," Canales said. "So to me, it's just him taking the natural progression—finding the level of comfort that you see with Russ and Doug. As that grows, I can't imagine what it's going to look like… It's just a trust factor, it just takes time.
"There's that moment of faith when a quarterback has to throw it before you're open. So the more you know a guy, the more you trust him, the more good things happen when you throw it to him. I always tell guys, when you create a positive experience for the quarterback, there's something on a mental and a chemical level that happens for them where they go, 'Oh, that felt good the last time I threw it to him.' That's chemistry."
Maybe improved chemistry with Wilson is what will allow Lockett to finally, as he put it, "play my game." But even if Lockett doesn't feel he has played up to his potential just yet, he has done plenty to show he will be a big part of Seattle's offense this season.
"He's a terrific player," Carroll said earlier in camp. "He just does everything, he can do all of the short stuff, all of the stuff on the side… He can do everything. He's a big factor for us."
Check out the best photos from the Seahawks practice held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Monday as the team prepares for the final preseason game of 2016 against the Oakland Raiders.