It's a new year and new years symbolize new beginnings. Of course, rookies are by definition, players getting new beginnings. You get one when you start college, one when you enter the pros, perhaps more if you switch teams. You've been around, but were somewhere else, and now here you are.
Well, Tyler Lockett is now definitely here.
From the time he was drafted (and the Seahawks giving up a significant draft package to move up and get him 69th overall) to the first preseason game, Lockett was accompanied by a lot of excitement whenever people talked about him. Not necessarily for his receiving skills -- not right away at least -- but by his dynamic big play ability and his return game specialties. From his first preseason game to the last, that excitement was magnified by a degree five times hotter than the human sun, because of his not-before-seen punt and kick return wizardry.
Lockett won't be all that helpful on offense, perhaps 20 or so catches, 300 or 400 yards, a touchdown here or there. But he wasn't expected to help out all that much in the receiving area because he was young, more potential than present, and was stuck behind at least three or four better options.
From the first game of the season to the sixth, all of those feelings rang true; Lockett had 12 catches for 128 yards, no touchdowns, and was targeted about three times per game. He returned a punt for a touchdown in game one and a kick return for a score in game three. Everything was as expected.
And then something clicked.
In Week 7 against San Francisco, Lockett caught all five of his targets for 79 yards and a touchdown. Three weeks later, he saw the 49ers again and had 48 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn't just picking on that one team though (not that anyone would mind that), because over the last four games, Lockett has received seven targets in each of those contests.
For good reason, since Lockett is catching most everything that comes his way and is often in position to put six on the board for Seattle.
Now we aren't just asking the question of whether or not Lockett is only an elite return man (funny enough, that part of his game has fallen off a bit, though he's still going to the Pro Bowl for it) but if he's the best rookie wide receiver in the NFL. And that's not just homerism or an overreaction to a nice stretch of games. The numbers should force any reasonable person to ask the question.
Lockett is third among rookies in receiving yards (628), behind Amari Cooper (1,050) and Stefon Diggs (714) and is tied with Cooper for receiving touchdowns with six.
This despite the fact that he was the ninth receiver off the board after Cooper, Kevin White (DNP), DeVante Parker (388), Nelson Agholor (260), Breshad Perriman (DNP), Phillip Dorsett (197), Devin Smith (115), and Dorial Green-Beckham (528).
But as mentioned before, Lockett didn't even get going until Week 7.
Since game seven, he's tied in receptions with Cooper (37) and second in yards (Cooper, 531, Lockett, 490.) However, Lockett's six touchdowns since then is twice as many as Cooper and two more than second-place Devin Funchess.
And he's doing it on a lot fewer targets.
Lockett has been targeted 46 times over that period of time compared to 75 for Cooper. That's a catch rate of 80% compared to 49%. Yep.
According to SportingCharts, Cooper's 10 drops this season is the second-most among all players. They say Lockett has just two drops. Among wide receivers with at least 30 targets, Doug Baldwin's catch rate of 76% ranks second (surprisingly enough, behind Redskins rookie Jamison Crowder), and Lockett is fourth at 75.4%.
Of course, as he's gone, so have the Seahawks: They were 2-4 when he wasn't a major part of the offense and 7-2 with him getting into the mix. The two losses were his two worst games of the stretch. He had one target and one catch for seven yards against the Cardinals, and caught three of seven targets for 33 yards last week against the Rams.
Oddly enough, his numbers compare quite favorably to someone who is a tight end or a lot bigger than a player of Lockett's size: A high catch rate, a high number of touchdowns per target (one per 10 targets), and a modest but still good yards-per-catch of 12.82. (Historically, I've found that players that put up yards but only have about 10 YPC turn out to be quite poor, which is why I've never liked Kendall Wright. Over 12 is still good.)
In fact, as far as wide receivers go, there's a much bigger player whose rookie season is almost the same as Lockett's: Dez Bryant.
As a rookie in 2010, Bryant had 73 targets (Lockett has 65), 45 catches (49), 12.47 YPC (12.82), and six touchdowns, same as Lockett. You'll still be hard pressed to find a rookie receiver that has as high of a catch rate as Lockett though. It compares closer to someone like Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski.
Cooper will get the attention and probably more Offensive Rookie of the Year votes, but Lockett has arguably outplayed him over the course of the season. And even if he doesn't end up as good as Amari Cooper, one of the best receiving prospects of the decade, that's fine too. But who else among this class is providing a more exciting prospect of upside than T. Lockett?
Diggs is averaging three catches for 37 yards over his last eight games with two touchdowns.
DGB catches fewer than half of his targets.
Sure, a couple more will get added into the mix next year, and I was a huge fan of Kevin White, but they aren't playing right now. Lockett is. And he's playing fantastically.
Happy New Year, New Guy. Looking forward to 2016.
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