When it was reported on Wednesday morning that the Seattle Seahawks had locked up Tyler Lockett to a three-year extension and $20 million guaranteed, the news was met with some shock by fans. Not because Lockett isn’t talented, that much is obvious, but because the team opted to lock down a future with him instead of doing so with Paul Richardson, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract with Washington in the offseason. The deal also comes more than four years after the Seahawks opted to move on from Golden Tate and instead hitch a wagon, some draft picks, and $67 million (not really near that much) to Percy Harvin.
Could Lockett, who has caught three touchdowns over the last two seasons, really be a more attractive long-term option than either of those two were? The numbers so far would suggest “Yes” and by a considerably wide margin.
Though Lockett’s inconsistency has been a bit maddening, we forget just how rare it is to find any receiver that can do the things he does at times. Both Tate and Richardson also displayed unique gifts at the receiver position, but they too struggled to remain healthy and consistent throughout their Seattle tenures. All three players were drafted on day two and all three players left something to be desired through their first three seasons. However when comparing all three players, Lockett stands well above Tate and Richardson.
Lockett’s first three seasons:
137 catches on 206 targets, 66.5% catch rate, 1,816 yards, 13.3 YPC, nine touchdowns
Tate’s first three seasons:
101 catches on 165 targets, 61.2% catch rate, 1,297 yards, 12.8 YPC, 10 touchdowns
Richardson’s first three seasons:
51 catches on 81 targets, 62.9% catch rate, 599 yards, 11.7 YPC, two touchdowns
Instead, Lockett compares favorably to the Seahawks’ best receiver of this century when looking at their first three campaigns.
Doug Baldwin’s first three seasons:
130 catches on 207 targets, 62.8% catch rate, 1,932 yards, 14.9 YPC, 12 touchdowns
There is important context to note with all of these players, which is what I’ll do now. First of all, Tate played his first two seasons with Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, and Tarvaris Jackson. He was best with Jackson, but was generally useless with all three. He was much better with a rookie Russell Wilson, catching 42 of 63 targets from Wilson for seven touchdowns and a passer rating of 129.9. Still, hindsight on Tate is usually about the Seahawks not re-signing him and people forget rather easily that frustrations with Tate mounted to the point of wondering if he’d even make the team in 2012.
Of course, Richardson’s issues typically stemmed from injuries, with him missing virtually all of his second season in 2015. His bookend years around that included 271 yards as a rookie and 288 yards in a relatively healthy 2016 campaign. I can’t say there was anything too extension-worthy about the player who many are complaining is gone now because he didn’t get any of the money from Seattle that Lockett just did. That’s actually not surprising at all though: when the Seahawks drafted Lockett, it was likely because of this moment right now. They had just seen Richardson miss the entire season, they knew that he’d likely return and hope he’d be productive just long enough to leave in 2018 and open the door for Lockett.
You can disagree with the plan, but this still looks like the execution of a plan. And the player that Lockett was in 2015 as a rookie is much better than any version of Richardson, including his 703-yard campaign last season.
Which leads us to the fact that Lockett has indeed had a very backwards career in terms of what you’d expect leading to an extension. His best season came during his freshman entry into the NFL, and even before his broken leg in 2016 he was really inconsistent; Lockett had 23 yards or less in seven of the first 11 games that season. He then started to get into a bit of a hot streak, putting up 234 yards in the next three contests, before breaking his leg the following week on an extraordinary catch against the Arizona Cardinals.
He was said to have played at about 80% last season, and while there were plenty of times he was a non-factor (10 games under 30 yards), he still showed speed and explosiveness that is incredibly rare, including 121 yards against the Houston Texans and a 74-yard touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ elite secondary. Here are a bunch of Lockett highlights as a receiver:
Here's another. These are the type of plays, on top of his other skills, that give Lockett a super high ceiling. pic.twitter.com/rTzwgC1H3H— Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) August 29, 2018
Lockett is also an All-Pro punt and kick returner, far surpassing the work done in that area by Tate or Richardson. I don’t think he has much of a future on special teams at this point, that’s not why they signed him for three more years, but it is another specialty in his game and a display — much like a Steve Smith or Antonio Brown — of how incredible he is with the ball in his hands.
The Seahawks deal with Lockett is a bit surprising just because the only receiver they’ve really given a second contract to in this era is Baldwin (Mike Williams doesn’t really count), but then again not surprising when you compare the numbers between those two. And Lockett may have an even higher ceiling.