The Seahawks clearly had a high opinion of Tyler Lockett when they picked him in the third round of the 2015 draft. After all, Seattle is a franchise known for trading back in the draft to stockpile more picks since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010, but the Seahawks gave up third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks to acquire Washington's third-rounder (69th overall) in order to take the receiver out of Kansas State.
Yet as much as the Seahawks believed in Lockett, he has in some ways exceeded their expectations early in his rookie campaign. Back in May, the Seahawks saw Lockett as a player who could immediately upgrade their return game, and the plan was to wait and see what he could as a receiver. Fourth months later, Lockett has emerged as Seattle's third receiver and he saw significant playing time in Seattle' season opener, playing 70 percent of the offensive snaps.
"He's a receiver that returns kicks, I don't think it's the other way around," Carroll said. "… I would say, yeah I think I'm surprised at that much (playing time). The game called for a lot of three receivers and all that, probably didn't come into the season thinking he would be that active, but he's been fantastic and he's so supremely conditioned and all. He's just worked so hard, it's not a big deal to him at all. So he's kind of just a regular part of the offense now. I really think he's a receiver that's returning kicks. We thought of him probably, 'we'll figure that other part out, let's get him to be the returner,' and we went about it that way, and he took it over and showed us that we need to think the other way."
As Carroll notes, the Seahawks used a lot of three-receiver sets in St. Louis, so Lockett may not always be on the field quite that often, but what is clear after the preseason and one regular season game is that the rookie will have a significant role in the offense right away, and not just be limited to being a return specialist.
"Immediately I thought, 'oh, he's the kick returner' so I had him penciled in in that kind of area," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Real fast in training camp you started to see what he could do as a wide receiver, and he started to move up in our minds what he could do there. We love what we have with Doug (Baldwin) and Jermaine (Kearse) and him as well, and Jimmy (Graham) inside, it's pretty dynamic."
Lockett knew coming in that he would have a good chance to win both the kick and punt return jobs, which he did, but he also didn't want to limit himself to a special teams role.
"The biggest thing was that I didn't want to limit myself to being one-dimensional, whether it was being just on offense or just on special teams," he said. "I wanted to go out there and see what happened, and fortunately things are starting to work out for me. I was going to let the coaches decide whether I played both or if it was one thing, and right now they trust me to be able to do almost everything, so I want to continue to just build off of that and get better."
Lockett, who had four catches for 34 yards last week, has made a quick adjustment to the NFL for a number of reasons. For starters, he has exceptional speed and athleticism, which was on full display during his 57-yard punt return touchdown last week and his two return touchdowns in the preseason, but Lockett's early success is the result of more than just physical ability. Receiver can be a difficult position to adjust to at the NFL level even for very good players—Golden Tate struggled to get on the field as a rookie with Seattle, but eventually was the leading receiver on a Super Bowl winning-team in 2013 and a Pro Bowler with Detroit a year later. But Lockett has immediately become a part of Seattle's offense because he is a lot more than just an exceptional athlete. He arrive in Seattle as a precise route-runner, in part because of good coaching and in part because his father, Kevin, and uncle, Aaron, were both standout receivers at Kansas State—Kevin Lockett also spent seven seasons in the NFL, while Aaron Lockett played in the CFL.
"I think I had pretty good coaches, plus family, to be able to help me," Lockett said. "They played the position, that's the only position we really played our whole lives.... My dad played receiver, my uncle played receiver, now I'm playing receiver, so there were a lot of things they were able to teach me because they've been in this situation."
In addition to coaching and genetics, Lockett is succeeding early because of a work-ethic that is exceptional even by professional-athlete standards. Those clichés you hear about a player being the first guy on the practice field and the last guy off of it? That frequently describes Lockett, who regularly spends time before and after practice catching balls from a machine or fielding extra punts and kickoffs. Lockett is also diligent about his work in the weight room and the training room, because, as he puts it, "your body is what's going to help you perform, and if you don't perform, that's when you get cut."
"He's such a hard and diligent worker," Bevell said after practice Wednesday while Lockett was one of the few players left on the field. "If you're out at practice, he's the first one out there, everyone's leaving he's still out there. It's really important to him. I can tell when we leave the meeting rooms, he doesn't just shut the book and say, "I got it." He goes home and he studies it. It's so important to him. It's been impressive that he's been able to pick up all the nuances of it. The missed assignments that he has had have been very minimal since it's so important to him. He wants to do right, he showed up big for us in the game. Not just in the kicking game, he had a few catches as well, and I think he'll continue to do that."