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Projecting Tyler Lockett’s potential in 2018

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

While much of the discussion this offseason has centered around the Seattle Seahawks’ new defensive look, there are just as many question marks surrounding their offense, particularly around any receiver whose name isn’t Doug Baldwin. The most obvious player to receive number two targets is Tyler Lockett and with the departure of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, he is set up to potentially have a breakout season.

For like the third time in his career.

Lockett’s rookie season left fans excited and wanting more from the third round pick with a Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod already under his belt for special teams contributions, but he was also a pretty productive receiver: 51 receptions, six touchdowns, and 664 yards, which is the seventh-best total ever for a Seahawks rookie. Since then, it’s looked as though Lockett has been on the decline, scoring just three times in the two years since and putting up a career-low 555 yards in 2017.

The Break

However, let’s not forget that last season was a year in recovery for Lockett after suffering a broken leg against the Arizona Cardinals in December of 2016:

This was not a light injury or recovery:

Lockett doesn’t know how long he was in the hospital recovering from surgery. He was in a wheelchair for a time and also had to use crutches. Lockett said the hardest part was spending the majority of the offseason in Seattle constantly doing rehabilitation. He believed three months ago that he was ready to start running and making football moves again, but understood the precautions being taken by the Seahawks to make sure he was fully ready to practice.

Of course, he was limited in practices to begin and for a 24-year-old still learning the intricacies of playing receiver in the NFL, it was valuable time to miss. In that context, Lockett being able to put up 555 yards on 45 receptions isn’t so terrible.

But now that Richardson has left for a $40 million contract in Washington, Lockett’s got no more time to spend as the number three or number four option for the Seahawks and he surely wants a $40 million contract of his own.

Stepping up to WR2

Per FootballOutsiders, Lockett finished the year with a DYAR rating of 48, which ranked 60th overall, tied with Randall Cobb and J.J. Nelson. The bar for Lockett being a 2017 Paul Richardson would be 161 DYAR, which ranked 23rd and is far more acceptable as a number two option at receiver, especially in a Seattle offense that is hoping to throw the ball less and run it more. Pete Carroll surely wants Lockett to be productive, but more than anything he wants his passing game to be more efficient and Lockett’s DVOA of -3.4% indicates a lack of success play-to-play in key situations.

His catch rate of 63% in 2017 is decent, but that improved as the season wore on, as Lockett put up a rate of 72.7% on 22 targets over the final seven games. The issue is that it is a very low volume (average of two catches for 26 yards per game) though, so can Lockett handle 2-3 times as many targets and still maintain efficient stats in catch rate and DVOA?

So far during OTAs it seems as though things are moving in a positive direction for Lockett and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer:

Being Russell Wilson’s number two guy means more targets and there isn’t much standing in his way as of now, just less than 100 days away from Week 1. The decision to let Richardson and Graham walk away without much of a known fight did not lead to a bunch of new blood being let in: Amara Darboh, Jaron Brown, David Moore, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly, Tanner McEvoy, Marcus Johnson, Nick Vannett.

It’s hard to see who else could be a number two target, given that we have no idea who will even be the number three after Doug Baldwin and Lockett.

“Not much else” isn't exactly what the Seahawks are banking on. Richardson finished the season with 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns, and while that is a decent total, much if it hinges on his 16 yards per reception. His 55% catch rate was significantly lower than previous Seattle “number two options” like:

  • Golden Tate (64.6%) and Baldwin (69.4%) in 2013
  • Jermaine Kearse in 2015 (72.1%)
  • And Graham (68.4%) or Lockett himself (62.1%) in 2016

Lockett has a career Y/C of 13.3 and catch rate of 66.5%. If he maintained those numbers with an increased number of targets in 2018, what sort of season could we see from the fourth-year receiver?

2018 Projections

Seattle passed the ball 555 times last season, with 104 of those targets going to running backs (46 to J.D. McKissic alone). In Schottenheimer’s last season with the St. Louis Rams in 2014, they passed it 515 times, with 105 of those going to running backs; 149 if you include Tavon Austin in that group.

The Seahawks added Rashaad Penny at running back and look to bring back McKissic and C.J. Prosise, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them allocate an even higher number of targets to its back in 2018 than they did the year before, while also aiming to throw the ball fewer times. This likely makes up some of the ground between 2017’s “missing targets” from the losses of Richardson and Graham and where the passes will go in 2018.

Theoretically, what if Seattle threw it 515 times and allocated 120 targets to running backs? That would leave 395 targets for receivers and tight ends. Baldwin has averaged 120 targets over the last two seasons, so if he repeats that, it leaves 275 to go around. Rather than giving all the tight end targets to one guy, it likely gets spread around between Vannett, Dickson, and Dissly (and/or Tyrone Swoopes), with the potential to still throw towards a tight end around 130 times. Lockett himself got 71 targets last season, so let’s just say that he gets 20 more next season.

Lockett at 91 targets and a 65% catch rate gives him 59 receptions. If he can up his Y/C from 13.3 to 14, that would place him at 826 yards.

These are lofty goals for a player whose yardage peaked in 2015 at 51 catches for 664, but he’s now in the position — and a full 18 months from surgery on a broken leg — to solidify himself as the number two option after Baldwin. This is a player that Carroll traded up to get in 2015 after all and who proved himself as a special athlete right out of the gate — FootballOutsiders didn’t love him last season but as a rookie he ranked 15th in DYAR and third in DVOA. The last two seasons have unfortunately included more steps back than forward, but the good news is that Lockett is taking steps at all.