Tyler Lockett first made a name for himself with the Seahawks on special teams, returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in his first three games as a rookie. But as last season went along, it became more and more evident that Lockett was not just a dynamic returner, but also a big part of Seattle's offense as a receiver.
So coming into his second season, there were understandably high expectations on Lockett after he earned first-team All-Pro honors as a returner while also emerging as the Seahawks' No. 3 receiver as a rookie.
Things didn't go exactly according to the script for Lockett, however, thanks in large part to a sprained knee sustained in Seattle's second game of the season. Lockett didn't miss a game—he somehow even returned to that Week 2 loss to the Rams to finish with four catches for 99 yards—but for several games after the injury, it was evident that Lockett was not the same, dynamic homerun threat that he had been during his rookie season.
That has all started to change in the latter part of this season, and Lockett's big-play ability was on display again Thursday night as he hauled in seven receptions for a career-high 130 yards and a 57-yard score.
"I'm really fired up for Tyler Lockett, he was on fire tonight and just looked great," Carroll said after his team's NFC West-clinching win over the Rams. "He did a nice job in the return game, too, really pressing it and giving us a shot every time they kicked it to him.
"He was not 100 percent (earlier in the season). He was safe to play and all of that, but he was not 100 percent, and we just worked our way through it and used him accordingly, and the trainers and everybody worked with him and he has a great attitude about it, he was not going to miss a game. When he returned to full speed, we've tried to get him more engaged in the action and (Thursday) was a good illustration of that."
Lockett, usually Seattle's third receiver, also saw his role increase a bit Thursday, playing more in two-receiver sets along with Doug Baldwin, and earning the second most playing time among receivers behind Baldwin.
"I just wanted to see more," Carroll said "He has been so good, and we just wanted to see more of him to see if he could continue to create impact and he certainly did, so it was a good decision."
One of the biggest reasons the Seahawks made a big move up in the third round of the 2015 draft to select Lockett was his big-play ability, and he hasn't disappointed in that regard. Of Lockett's 10 career touchdowns, six have been longer than 40 yards, and eight have been 24 yards or longer. With a 75-yard touchdown run against Carolina earlier this month, Lockett now has the Seahawks' longest receiving and rushing touchdowns this season.
"He ran 4.32 or something at the combine, so that's legit," Carroll said. "He's really fast. I think really we can see clearly how he has been able to come back to his speed and play with it later in the year when he was hampered earlier. As he has, we've tried to use him more so and he's come through. He's just a big factor. He's such a good football player… He's just a great all-around asset to our team. It was a really good showing (Thursday) night."
When Lockett was battling through the knee injury and a six-game stretch in which he never exceed four catches or 32 yards in a game, he leaned on numerous people for support, ranging from family to fellow receiver Doug Baldwin, who himself had a rough second season due to injuries.
"It was difficult," Lockett said. "Obviously nobody plans on getting hurt through their whole entire season, but it could have been worse. There's a lot of people here that are out for the season and stuff like that, and for me, I was able to play through injuries, but at the same time, it was frustrating but I had to lean on my faith. I had to continue to embrace this opportunity that I do have."
Lockett said in conversations with his family one piece of advice that stuck with him was being told to "make these games the best that you can. Obviously you wish things could have been different, but you can still write your story. You can write how this chapter ends. Even though it started slow, that doesn't mean it has to end the same way. You can make it into whatever you want it to be. That's what I want to do, go out here and make the best out of every game. I might not make 130 yards next week, but I'm OK with that. I just want win and play with my teammates and do whatever it takes to be able to win the Super Bowl."
Lockett's second-year story isn't complete just yet, but the latest chapter he authored Thursday night shows it could be headed towards an ending both he and the Seahawks will like.
"He's a tremendous player," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "… Tyler Lockett, to be explosive and quick and be able to do all the things that he can do special-teams wise. He's one of the toughest guys to cover just because he does it right every time."
Here are action photos from Week 14 vs the Rams at CenturyLink Field.