As a rookie, Tyler Lockett burst onto the scene for the Seattle Seahawks, grabbing a role as a key member of the receiving corps, while also earning All Pro honors as a kick returner. Just to show he wasn’t a one-hit wonder as a returner, Lockett then went on to be selected as a second team All Pro returner in both his second and third seasons in the league. However, during those three years, while he had ups and downs as a wide receiver, he never truly established as the force on the field that many felt could take over for Doug Baldwin when he retired.
And then 2018 arrived. The Hawks gave Lockett a nice contract extension at the end of training camp, and he rewarded the team with what was by far the best season of his career - 57 catches, 965 yards and 10 touchdowns. Any doubt about Lockett’s ability to take over as the team’s top receiver when it came time for Doug Baldwin to move on were erased, as Lockett put up numbers that made the entire league take notice, including a perfect passer rating when targeted by quarterback Russell Wilson.
However, with his emergence as a dangerous receiving threat, many fans began expressing fears that Lockett’s role as a returner could put the team in jeopardy of losing its top receiving threat and wondered out loud if the team might assign return duties elsewhere to better protect No-E’s health. Then, against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football in Week 10, Lockett suffered a shin bruise that landed him in the hospital for two nights. While he would recover sufficiently to play against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12 after the bye week, he was limited to his duties as a receiver, with kick and punt return duties given to Travis Homer and David Moore, respectively.
And according to head coach Pete Carroll during his meeting with the media on Monday, it appears as though those new assignments for Homer and Moore could last longer than just one game.
Carroll says he's "really happy" with the way Travis Homer and David Moore handled kickoff and punt return duties yesterday, especially with the wind.— Curtis Crabtree (@Curtis_Crabtree) November 25, 2019
That said, the move may not just be about protecting Lockett from injury. It’s likely no coincidence that as his role as a receiver has grown, his ability to conjure up a game changing return has largely slipped away. His longest punt return since the start of the 2017 season is just 27 yards, and he has returned only one kick or put for a touchdown since his rookie year. Obviously, as a result, both his punt and kick return averages are at career lows.
This is not to say that he’s lost his abilities as a returner. It’s quite often the case that elite returners see a drop in their return game production when they are given more snaps. Even the great Devin Hester had a two year drought without a kick or punt return for a touchdown in 2008 and 2009 after becoming a starting wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, only to regain the ability to find the end zone on returns after stepping back from one of the top receiving spots in 2010.
In short, this is a natural progression, and it’s entirely possible that it’s long overdue. Homer and Moore are youngsters on inexpensive contracts, and if they’re able to produce nearly as well as Lockett has been while protecting one of the team’s most dangerous offensive weapons, then it’s an win-win-win situation.
Whether or not Pete keeps things this way, only time will tell. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Lockett continue to be used in high leverage situations, but sitting on a 9-2 record and the schedule difficulty seemingly letting up as the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams appear to flail their way down the home stretch, hope that won’t be necessary. The Monday Night Football matchup against the Minnesota Vikings is still a ways away, but that will give fans the first opportunity to see if Carroll liked Moore and Homer enough to keep them in their return roles going forward.
Let’s just hope the game between these two teams is less ugly than their meeting last season, when the two teams combined for three points through the first three quarters, Russell Wilson threw possibly the ugliest interception he’ll ever throw and the game brought out the angry from Angry Doug Baldwin.