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How Tyler Lockett has been the most consistently good WR in the NFL

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Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This morning I saw a video of Adam Thielen and it just reminded how good the Vikings wide receiver really is. Even after catching 91 passes for 1,276 yards last season, Thielen is on another one this year with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback and John DeFilippo as his new offensive coordinator. He leads the NFL with 47 catches and he’s on pace to have 1,887 yards; there’s a good chance that if he’s healthy, Thielen will break the single-season receptions record and that’s even with sharing the field with Stefon Diggs, who himself is on pace for just under 1,300 yards.

Thielen also became the first player since Charley Hennigan in 1961 to post at least 100 receiving yards in each of his team’s first five games of a season. (Hennigan was about 60 years ahead of his time, because he also posted 272 yards in game five, 108 yards in game six, and 232 yards in game seven of that season, finishing with 1,746 yards in 13 games. Thielen has some work to do.)

Looking over Thielen’s game log though, I noticed that while he has put up 100 yards each week, there was one game that maybe wasn’t so good: in Week 3’s shocking loss to the Buffalo Bills, Thielen had 105 yards but it came on 19 targets. That’s only 5.53 yards per target. In every other game, Thielen was at least at 8.5 yards per target, a more top tier kinda number, and anything over 10 is really, really good. I decided to find out if any wide receiver, in a season full of record numbers being put up in the passing game, had put up at least eight yards per target in each of the first five games, and there was only one:

Tyler Lockett.

Though Lockett has not hit the 100-yard mark yet, he and the Seattle Seahawks offensive playcalling has made the most of his opportunities. Lockett has caught 20 of 28 targets and his lowest output of the season in terms of Y/T is 8.57 in Week 2 vs the Chicago Bears, the league’s number one defense so far. He has also caught a touchdown in four of five games and had over 12 Y/T three times.

Only six players have caught a touchdown in four different games this season: Lockett, Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, Eric Ebron, James White, and Antonio Brown.

Lockett is seventh in yards per reception (17.4) behind only DeSean Jackson, Robby Anderson, John Brown, Jesse James, O.J. Howard, and Brandin Cooks.

Russell Wilson has completed five-of-eight “deep targets” to Lockett per Pro-Football-Reference, with four of those going for touchdowns.

Drafted in the third round in 2015, there was talk at the time of Lockett looking very similar to Brown, the NFL’s best wideout of his generation, in my opinion. Of course, these comparisons were being made more because of physical attributes and maybe some style of play, but nobody could reasonably expect Lockett to have six straight seasons of 100+ catches and 1,200+ yards, maybe going on a seventh, leading the league in receptions twice and yardage twice.

And sure enough we have not seen that from Lockett over his first 3.25 seasons, but in microdoses like this one, where Lockett is a consistent performer in Y/T to open 2018, Lockett shows why he is still special and why it was a good idea for the Seahawks to extend him when they did for what they did. Does it portend some greater, Brown-like future ahead?

Not likely, because there are still some great limitations in terms of potential output in a Pete Carroll offense. (No matter who the offensive coordinator is, it’s still going to be a Pete Carroll offense.) Lockett has received 28 targets this year while Brown, having his worst season to date probably, has 66 targets. That volume difference is insane, but it also illustrates just how different many NFL offenses are from the Seahawks’ version. That’s 13 targets per game for Brown compared to 5.6 for Lockett. Even last year, Brown had 11.6 targets per game and Lockett’s not even close to that despite Doug Baldwin missing virtually all of the first four games and serving mostly as a distraction in Week 5.

Quickly I’ll note what some might be thinking: Even Brown didn’t actually break out in the way that we know him until his fourth season, and Lockett was recovering from a broken leg last year, so 2017 is a bit of a wash. However, it won’t solve the issue of total volume of targets he’ll ever receive while playing for Carroll.

If he were unleashed to another city, then maybe. Golden Tate went from 64 catches and 898 yards in his final season with Seattle to 99 catches and 1,331 yards in his first season with the Detroit Lions. We know now that Lockett isn’t going anywhere.

With the Seahawks, Lockett may never receive the volume of targets necessary to be a 1,500-yard receiver, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be extremely valuable to the offense, which he already has been. If he gets 100 targets at this pace, Lockett will have 71 catches for 1,239 yards. That’d be about the most efficient 1,200-yard season you could ask for and it’s the rate he’s been playing at for almost a third of an NFL year. He’s also 16th in DYAR and fifth in DVOA.

In a season full of receiving and passing numbers that seemed unfathomable a decade ago, Lockett isn’t putting up “the most” of anything really, but he’s been about as reliable as valuable as anybody when those opportunities have come to him.