Tyler Lockett started his Seahawks career with about as much excitement and anticipation as any receiver in recent team history. This was mostly due to his special teams play, where he had a punt return touchdown in his NFL debut, then a kickoff return touchdown two weeks later. At that point, many began to wonder if Lockett would ever be consistently stopped on returns, and his development as a receiver was only in the beginning stages.
Comps to Antonio Brown were made. And I think at the time, those comps are completely justified, even if we knew it was the “in a dream scenario...” outcome. Three years later, Lockett becoming anything close to Brown is still just a dream, and that’s not likely to change, but he has been more than useful. The comps are just a lot more down-to-earth and in the waking world.
Lockett went over two years and three months without a special teams touchdown, finally returning a kickoff for a score in the 2017 season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. He still hasn’t returned a punt for a score since his debut. As a receiver, he started to come on strong at the end of 2015 — when Russell Wilson was truly abusing his power as one of the greatest quarterbacks in football — with 30 catches for 404 yards and five touchdowns in the final seven games.
We have rarely seen that Lockett since.
All told, Lockett has been consistently good while being simultaneously underwhelming. He’s done so with injuries only sapping him of one career start, though admittedly he was slowed down by a broken leg at a time when he should have really been developing and growing into the position and gaining chemistry with Wilson. He’s also a former third round pick, not a first rounder, so he’s out-paced the expected outcome of his draft position.
Still, this is what he is:
He’s been targeted between 66 times and 71 times in each of his three seasons.
He’s caught between 41 and 51 receptions in each of his three seasons.
He’s had between 555 yards and 664 yards in each of his three seasons.
The only area in traditional stats that he’s really fallen behind on is touchdowns, as Lockett had six as a rookie and just three in the last 31 games. What other receivers have produced at a Lockett-like level over their first three seasons?
Funnily enough, his totals aren’t far behind where Antonio Brown was at after three years: Brown had 2,062 yards (Lockett has 1,816) and seven touchdowns (two less than Lockett) through three seasons. However, Brown was basically nonexistent as a rookie and had 1,108 yards in year two. Lockett has yet to enjoy a true breakout season like that to prove that seasons like that are within his skillset.
Other players who have similar three-year totals to Lockett, but barely produced as rookies are Pierre Garcon (1,572 yards, but only 23 as a rookie), Steve Breaston (1,810 yards, but 92 as a rookie), and Jeremy Kerley (1,664 yards, but 314 as a rookie). These players were also low on touchdowns, sometimes lower than Lockett. Garcon is obviously the ideal outcome of those three, while Breaston and Kerley settled into being “reliable for a few more years.”
They also all fall in around 13 YPC, with Lockett currently at 13.3 YPC, so it’s not just similar in totals but in rate stats per catch and target. Lockett has also had the benefit of playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, which should be taken into account; Kerley was with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, but Breaston was with Kurt Warner and Garcon with Peyton Manning. So, it happens. Who knew that productive receivers often have productive quarterbacks?
How about players who, like Lockett, caught between 500 and 800 yards in each of their first three seasons, giving them a similar trajectory rather than just totals?
That bag is also mixed and includes: Martavis Bryant (third official season in the league was actually his fourth year, with one of the years being lost to suspension), Peter Warrick, Robert Woods, Brian Hartline, and Andre Reed would all qualify under those circumstances. There are 25 total names that did it, including Lockett, but many of them are not receivers or played long, long ago. Reed is the most “ancient” and he went onto the Hall of Fame, but of course players weren’t putting up numbers in the 80s and 90s like they are today.
Hartline had very similar numbers to Lockett after three seasons, then put up over 1,000 yards in both year four and year five. He evaporated from the league pretty quickly after that though, perhaps a lesson on going to Cleveland.
Woods and Lockett have also had very similar first-three seasons and Woods got a fairly hefty contract from the LA Rams despite solid-yet-unspectacular numbers. I do expect that after this season is over, if he’s healthy, Lockett will also get a very rich deal from some team. If that’s going to be the Seahawks, I think he’s going to need to do more than 600-700 yards, especially now that he’s the favorite to be Wilson’s number two target. I think we saw with Paul Richardson that if you’re the number two guy and you’re not consistently an on-field threat, Seattle is willing to let you walk.
I don’t think they would have if Richardson consistently produced, and he had seven games with 35 or less yards. In the last five games he caught nine of 24 targets for 119 yards. Lockett has had stretches like that too. He can’t really have them next season and expect to be brought back, I don’t think.
Warrick was the fourth overall pick in 2000 and he actually was quite productive in year four — 79 catches for 819 yards and seven touchdowns — but he missed most of year five and then as you may remember, fluttered out of the league after one season with the Seahawks.
Then there’s Bryant, who may be the Steelers WR most like Lockett, at least in terms of production. Though Bryant had 21.1 YPC as a rookie, that number has shifted down to 13.7 YPC over the last two seasons (26 games) and he was pretty close to the same stats as Lockett in 2017. I think Bryant is seen as the most impressive athlete/receiver between the two, which may be accurate, but with a lot more character concerns, which is definitely accurate.
Both are entering their fourth official seasons with a lot to prove and it will be interesting to see what that means for the 2019 offseason depending on those outcomes. I still believe that Lockett can be an above-average number two receiver in the NFL, like Garcon, but there’s also the very real possibility that he’s not going to move past some of the other similar first-three-year players, like Breaston, Kerley, Mike Sims-Walker, Jabar Gaffney, and Josh Morgan.
The good news is that there are a lot of possibilities left for Tyler Lockett. And that’s the concerning news too.