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How the Seahawks can maximize a healthy Tyler Lockett in 2018

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Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

After a scintillating rookie season, which saw Tyler Lockett score eight total touchdowns and average over 12 yards per touch, expectations were high for the sophomore heading into 2016. A disappointing sophomore season, in which he scored just two touchdowns, was ended early as a broken leg finished Lockett’s season in Week 16. Year three was up-and-down; Lockett started slowly as he recovered from the leg injury, only to get back to full health towards the end of the season, looking like the player he was on both offense and special teams in 2015.

Much has been made about Lockett finally returning to full health and full speed in 2018. If the Seattle Seahawks get the type of player they thought they were getting after his rookie season, a fair number of the questions surrounding the Seahawks’ offense will be answered.

At his best, Lockett was a dynamic playmaker capable of breaking off an explosive play at any moment. If Lockett is indeed back to his best in 2018, Seattle get the most out of him and even improve upon his terrific rookie numbers by maximizing him in the roles he is built to excel in.

Vertical Routes

Lockett’s game changing explosiveness was more evident on vertical routes than anywhere else in his rookie season, with two-thirds of his receiving touchdowns coming from 20+ yards. Lockett possesses a couple traits key to being a great vertical receiver. He has consistently displayed the long speed necessary to break off long completions, and he has the route running savvy to get on top of defensive backs after beating them, not allowing them to get back into the play.

The second of those two traits is on display here, in Lockett’s rookie year. He beats Jimmie Ward (no. 25) off the line with a shifty release and immediately stacks him, effectively winning the route within five yards of the line of scrimmage. All that’s left is for Russell Wilson to beat Eric Reid (no. 35) with ball placement and he does.

Alternatively, against off coverage, Lockett displays the first of the two traits listed above. He simply eats up the space between himself and the defender, breezing past the flat-footed Trumaine Johnson and giving Wilson an easy completion.

With Paul Richardson departing in free agency, there is a hole in the Seahawks’ offense needing to be filled. Wilson loves to attack deep, throwing the third most passes 16+ yards in the air last season. Despite regressing overall as a deep passer in 2017, Wilson finished as the fourth most accurate quarterback on passes of 40+ air yards.

The team lost their best deep-ball receiver in free agency, but they can’t afford to lose that element of their offense. If Lockett is back to his best, they won’t have to worry about it.

Jet Sweeps

Over the course of his career, Lockett has carried the ball 21 times, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown. Handing off to Lockett on sweeps are productive for several reasons, the most obvious being, he’s got outstanding short-area burst and quickness, and at his best, possesses elite change of direction.

Modern offenses lean on getting the football into their playmaker’s hands in space, and allowing them to create. Giving Lockett the ball on a jet sweep accomplishes exactly that.

The offensive line moves to the left as Wilson carries out the fake with Chris Carson, getting the defense to flow in the opposite direction of Lockett. Luke Willson gets the block at the second level, and combined with Doug Baldwin on the outside, give Lockett a good crease to hit into the secondary.

At full health, there is no player at a skill position in Seattle more capable of creating an explosive play than Lockett. Getting him to the second and third level of a defense with a single defender to beat is a dangerous byproduct of running a jet sweep with him.

But just as importantly as giving Lockett the opportunity to create in space, is what the threat of doing it does. In 2017, we saw an uptick in Lockett’s carries on sweeps — his seven through the first eight weeks were more than he had ever had in a full season before. In Week 10, the payoff for doing so showed up for the first time.

Lockett motions into the backfield, drawing nearly every defender at the first and second level into the middle of the field before sprinting back out towards the sideline. With no defender within 10 yards of him, it’s an easy gain for the Seahawks.

In consecutive weeks, Seattle used the threat of Lockett on jet sweeps to open up the wide side of the field with great success. This time, Lockett comes on a jet sweep, Wilson fakes the handoff before pitching it to McKissic. The defense all flows to the boundary side with the fake and McKissic is able to turn the corner for a huge gain.

Utilizing Lockett on jet sweeps not only gets the ball into his hands and gives him more opportunities to create yardage, but it opens everything else up for the offense. Versatility out of the same look is crucial to offenses, and Lockett can provide that versatility.

Option Routes

Under former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, we saw Seahawks receivers get free by using rub routes to a prolific extent. These legal picks ‘rub’ the defender out of the play as two receivers cross, allowing one into space, free of a defender.

Under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, I would love to see option routes be used more heavily in Seattle’s offense. Both rub routes and option routes accomplish the same thing, freeing up a receiver into space. However, the option route’s guiding principles are quite different. Rather than a pre-determined pattern, the receiver must read the defender’s body position and leverage, and run their route accordingly.

With a defender playing inside and off the line of scrimmage, quick, in-breaking routes are essentially negated. In an option route, a receiver’s reaction to this coverage would be to go out-and-up. Against off coverage with inside positioning, Lockett goes out-and-up, and while pressure doesn’t allow the throw to come in time, he sits in the hole between over and under zones coverage and gives Wilson the easy bailout.

Against press coverage, with the defender playing with either outside leverage or squared up to the receiver, the reaction is to run a quick-hitting, in-breaking route. Lockett has the release to get off of press effectively, the speed to separate enough to give the quarterback a window and the understanding of leverage to maintain inside position.

The traits necessary to be a successful option route runner are evident across both Doug Baldwin and Lockett’s games. In an offense that struggled to gain yardage at crucial times in 2017, option routes, and putting receivers in easy positions to win, would help them tremendously in 2018.

Deep Middle

Another area where Richardson excelled last year, and where the Seahawks will need someone else to step up this year, were deep routes over the middle of the field. While Richardson mostly found his success on intermediate digs/deep under patterns, Lockett is better suited to posts and deep crossing routes. These types of patterns can fill Richardson’s production doing something closely similar.

Having Lockett running a post to the wide side of the field is dangerous for a defense, especially against man-free or cover-0. Lockett has the ability to get vertical quickly, and when he is given the wide side of the field, it’s easy separation after the route breaks inwards. Although the throw lets Tramaine Brock (no. 26) back into the play, Lockett has 3-4 steps on him as the ball is released.

This dig is much more similar to the type of middle-of-field route Richardson was targeted on consistently last season, and it’s an encouraging sign for Lockett’s expanded role in 2018. Logan Ryan (no. 26), in a one-on-one situation, has to respect Lockett’s vertical threat. At the top of his route, Lockett gives one final vertical step before breaking inside, putting Ryan off balance.

That split-second it takes for Ryan to recover is all Lockett needs to accelerate and separate.

Screens

Bubble and tunnel screens were so often a favorite of Bevell’s in the most inopportune times, much to the chagrin of fans. While it’s safe to expect a large cut down on these quick throws in 2018, there’s still a place for them in Seattle’s offense — particularly if Lockett is back to level he played at in 2015.

During Lockett’s rookie season, he was extremely productive on screen passes, catching all 14 of his targets for just over nine yards per catch. Similar to handing the ball to Lockett on jet sweeps, screens allow the ball to be put in an open field threat’s hands quickly, in space.

Additionally, they’re an easy pre-snap read for Wilson. The defense gives the look the Seahawks want in terms of defenders outside the hash, and Lockett’s able to dart up-field for a quick gain.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Seattle’s offense heading into 2018. There’s a new coaching staff in place and two of the team’s top pass catchers are gone. But Tyler Lockett’s return to 100-percent allows for a much more exciting question to be asked — how can the player we saw in 2015 best be utilized in 2018? Lockett’s versatility allows him to create in space on low-risk plays, take the top off a defense for large gains, and replace a big part of Richardson’s role. If he’s back to full health, it’s coming at a great time for the Seahawks.