Tyler Lockett took the handoff from Russell Wilson and rolled to his left, the rare chance to throw the ball awaiting him. But when Lockett looked up field, he realized the play wasn’t open and wisely decided to keep the ball, settling for a 1-yard gain.
That ability to avoid the temptation to throw and to instead do the smart thing, and the knowledge of the game and situation that allowed him to understand the shot at glory wasn’t worth the risk of a turnover are a big reason why the Seahawks trusted the fourth-year receiver to make that play in the first place—or in this case, to not try to make a play.
“There was a pass plan,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He made a good decision. The cool thing about Tyler is that we trust him… He sees the game from the perspective almost of the coaches or of a quarterback. He just sees the game really well. Literally, he’s one of the first guys that if something comes off that doesn’t look right to us that I’ll go to, to say, ‘Hey, what did you see there?’ and he’s normally always on it. Maybe growing up with his dad and having football in his life (helped), but he’s just really smart. He’s made good decisions for us so he’s never done anything to make us not trust him and believe him. Even that play, that play is not easy to call. The little trick thing is not easy to call unless you trust the guy so the reason it worked or didn’t work was because we trusted him and he made it right.”
Lockett’s intellectual approach to the game has helped him become a productive NFL receiver despite a 5-foot-10 inch frame that is hardly the ideal for his position, but in addition to being a savvy player, he is showing now more than ever the ability to play much bigger than his size. Ten games into his fourth season, Lockett already has a career-best seven touchdown receptions, many of those coming on contested catches more typically associated with bigger receivers. And with 38 catches for 554 yards, he is on pace to easily establish new career highs in those categories as well. Lockett’s production has been particularly important with Doug Baldwin limited by injuries earlier this season, and with Baldwin getting healthier for the closing stretch of the season, the Seahawks have a chance to be very strong at receiver the rest of this season.
“He’s off to the best start for sure,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s got more touchdowns than he’s had and if we can just keep pecking away at that, he will put together a fantastic season. But he’s been great. He’s been really consistent. It’s been great to have him in good health and all of that, and at top speed you can see how effective he is. He’s so fast and he utilizes it really well—probably more though. He’s come through with great catches. He’s made a lot of great catches this year and taking the ball away from guys at times and getting off his feet to make the plays he’s made. I think that seems to have stood out more. Why, I don’t know other than he’s just, he’s on it and having a great season. He’s a fantastic player. He and Russ are really hooked up and in that time when Doug was not available to us, I think that was a combination that was really necessary to keep us going and they made the most of it.”
Lockett’s value to Seattle’s offense was apparent in last week’s win over Green Bay when he had five catches for a team-high 71 yards. He came up particularly big on Seattle’s go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, catching an 18-yard pass on third-and-3 to keep the drive going, then diving to make 34-yard catch on the next play, helping set up an eventual Ed Dickson touchdown.
And as Carroll noted, Lockett has been particularly impressive making contested catches, and Lockett says that isn’t a coincidence that he’s better in that part of his game this season. Back when Lockett was a standout at Kansas State, he knew his size was a potential limitation, so he’d spend time after practice working on making contested catches. Making the jump to the NFL meant learning a new offense and making sure he was doing everything right to get on the field, then last year Lockett was doing everything he could just to be healthy enough to play every week following a serious injury in 2016, so he got out of that post-practice habit, to a degree. This year, however, Lockett has again made that part of his game a point of emphasis, and it’s paying off in big catches, such as the 23-yard touchdown he made against the Rams two weeks ago or his 24-yard touchdown against the Lions, both of which were well covered by defensive backs.
“I mean that’s something that I used to do when I was at Kansas State every single day, was I just stayed outside and let my bro Jake Waters throw the ball to me and I picked up somebody on defense and kind of have them try to literally make me drop the ball,” Lockett said. “Hold me, grab me, push me, punch me, whatever the case was. I did it a lot when I was at Kansas State, I just didn’t really do it as much when I was here. I was trying to do other stuff and focus on other stuff but I think just looking at last year, a lot of the plays that I left out on the field were a lot of contested passes, which could have been 50-50 balls so the one thing that I decided to get back to working on was being able to work on some of those contested catches that I used to do back in the day.
“When I was here at first, I had to get used to the scheme, understanding the scheme and ways that I could be able to freestyle in my routes. When I was at Kansas State, I used to freestyle a lot because it was easy to understand the scheme and my progression and if I was the third read or the fourth read and how much time that I had in my head to be able to run a certain route. I was able to do a lot of things that were unique in our offense at Kansas State and then when I got here, I had to figure out what it is that I could do, what it is that I couldn’t do, had to learn how to adjust to different things like that. With Schotty being able to come in, he allows me to be able to be more free, to be able to do some of the things that I used to do back in the day to set people up and I’m starting to get back to the game that I used to play.”
Yet as good as Lockett has been this year, he in some ways is more proud of what he did last year despite finishing with modest numbers—45 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns. After breaking his leg late in the 2016 season, an injury that required surgery and a long rehab process, Lockett had to battle just to make it back on the field for the start of the 2017. He played in all 16 games, though for most of the year he was far from his usual self, yet he still managed to be a productive part of the offense, and in the process he said he became a better receiver because of his physical limitations.
“Honestly, I think that I was the best that I’ve been last year, because I couldn’t be at my best,” Lockett said. “So I had to figure out how to be able to take my game to the level that I used to play at without having the same type of physical being of being able to take it where it’s always been. That’s where I honestly think I was at my best. Some people always ask me like, man, they see what I’m doing this year, but they don’t understand that I lot of this stuff came from last year. I was still getting open running 75%. I was still beating people downfield, it was just contested balls that I wasn’t normally used to being able to jump up and go get it and stuff like that. I wasn’t at the place that I could be at so a lot of that stuff that I’m doing now, it’s easy to be able to go back and play the game that you used to play when you learned how not to play the game that you used to play. All the things that I had to learn and work on that I wasn’t good at, it’s easy to be able to revert back to in my game now because I can set people up. At first, I had to learn how to really set people up in order to get them to bite so I could keep going deep but now I could literally give them that stutter-stutter-go and I could change directions as fast as I used to again. I was the best that I was last year because all that type of stuff really helped me expand my game going into this year. This year, I’ve literally done nothing different than the way that I’ve always played.”
Practice photos from the Seahawks' Wednesday workout at Virginia Mason Athletic Center ahead of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.