When the Seahawks selected Tyler Lockett in the third round of this year's draft, he was actually listed as RS, as in, return specialist, rather than receiver. That's how the Seahawks were viewing the player they had traded up 26 slots in the draft to select.
And after Seahawks coach Pete Carroll all but named Lockett the starting punt returner and possible kick returner on that same day, there was so much focus on the rookie's return ability that it was easy to forget that Lockett was also a very accomplished receiver at Kansas State. But five practices into training camp, it has become abundantly clear that Lockett has a real shot to make an impact not just on special teams, but as part of Seattle's passing game.
"He's doing great," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "We're not going to hold him back, he's going to push it for as much play time as he can get as receiver and then we're giving him a great shot to be returner in both kicks and punts. He's done a great job coming up if he can hold on to it."
Of course any rookie receiver looking great in training camp should be taking with a grain of salt. Perhaps no position other than quarterback represents a tougher transition from college to the NFL, which for the Seahawks was evident in the rookie year and eventual career of Golden Tate. Tate was a star in his first training camp in 2010, making highlight-reel catches on a daily basis, but when Week 1 rolled around, he was inactive. Tate went on to catch just 21 passes for 227 yards that year, but that was hardly a predictor of what lied ahead for the second-round pick. He was the Seahawks' leading receiver on a Super Bowl winning team in 2013, and after signing with Detroit in free agency, he made his first Pro Bowl after piling up 99 receptions for 1,331 yards last season.
Then again, Doug Baldwin managed to lead the Seahawks in catches and receiving yards in 2011, so it's not unheard of for a rookie receiver to step right in and make an impact on the offense from Day 1. And Lockett appears to have a bit of Baldwin in him, not just because both are a bit undersized, or because both are exceptionally quick—Carroll compared Lockett to Baldwin for his "suddenness in an out of breaks," which is very high praise—but also because like Baldwin, Lockett appears to be a very polished receiver coming out of college. While Tate was more of a raw talent who would eventually develop into a Pro Bowl receiver, Lockett already looks like a natural route-runner and ball-catcher who can play multiple receiver positions. At least some of that, Lockett says, comes from having a father, Kevin, and uncle, Aaron, who were both star receivers at Kansas State before him.
"I think it's helped me, just because my dad taught me the mental part of the game, just being able to understand coverages, be able to understand how to get open, it's all about getting open at the end of the day," Lockett said. "Regardless of what routes you have, a lot of times it's one on one, it's easy to be able to find the zone and sit in it, but where a lot of people win at is at the top of their routes or beating them at the line, so those are the things that I try to emphasize, so being able to come out here against some of the great cornerbacks who know how to press and play different techniques helps me as well as other receivers be able to find different ways to get off the line."
Lockett has the right mindset in camp about staying humble and competing for a roster spot, but he's also aware that the Seahawks have high expectations for him this year and beyond. After five years of constantly trading back in the draft under Carroll and John Schneider, the Seahawks gave up four picks to take Lockett early in the third round. And yes, the Seahawks very much are counting on Lockett to revive a return game that took a step back last year after being a strength in previous years, but it's become more and more evident that he can be a factor on offense as well.
Lockett doesn't plan on letting that pressure get to him, however, nor does he worry about the challenge of making the leap from college to the NFL.
"I adapt wherever I go," he said. "So if I go against some of the greatest players in the world, I'll be able to adapt to where I'll be able to play on their level. So for me, regardless of who I'm going against, I'll win every time. That's the mentality that I have, so even if I lose, I'm going to get back on the line and go again, it just goes for that mentality that everybody has around me, everybody has that mentality that wants to win. If you're going one-on-one with somebody, of course somebody is going to lose, and even when you lose, you've got to come back harder next time. So I know for me, regardless of who I go up against, I look at it like I'm not going to be stopped. If I get stopped, I get mad at myself, I go back to the drawing board and look and see what I can do next time, but I refuse to get shut down one time."