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Seahawks position groups: Wide Receiver

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NCAA Football: Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

All due respect to Tyler Lockett, I do not sense that he’s the most popular wide receiver on the Seattle Seahawks. Again.

For the last four years, Lockett has been a player that Seattle has mostly embraced and admired. From his stunning start on special teams that included a punt return touchdown in his first career game and a kickoff return touchdown in his third, all the way to his NFL-record 158.3 QB rating when targeted in 2018, Lockett has been every bit the early third round pick/number two option at receiver that the Seahawks could have hoped for and more.

But he wasn’t Doug Baldwin.

After breaking his leg as a rookie and perhaps taking awhile to fully recover (Lockett caught just three touchdowns over 31 games from 2016-17 and he has just one return touchdown in the 63 games since those first three), Lockett nearly doubled his yards per target last season. He went from a career-low 7.8 in 2017 to a league-high 13.3 in 2018; that was two yards per target better than second-place O.J Howard.

TWO YARDS.

However, that was Tyler Lockett in 2018 and there’s not only no guarantee that Lockett will repeat his effort in 2019, it is in my opinion more likely that he won’t. Here’s something you’ll hear me repeat a lot from now on: outliers are outliers for a reason.

Did Lockett have a breakout season because he’s finally healthy? Maybe.

Did Lockett have a breakout season because he turned 26 and now is his time to shine? Maybe.

Did Lockett have a breakout season because of Brian Schottenheimer? Well, maybe, but is that the argument I expect to hear from Seahawks fans? No.

Did Lockett have a breakout season because of Baldwin’s injuries and an increased opportunity and lack of other options? Also maybe. It’s admittedly even more impressive that only 13 throws to Lockett (out of 70) went unrecepted when you consider that Jaron Brown, David Moore, and Brandon Marshall were often the other options in the group.

But there’s another possibility and it is the answer that applies to way more football players and professional athletes than we give proper respect to: He had a career-year. Maybe. Or maybe not.

I have snagged seven potential comps to Lockett over the last 30 years or so just based on these marks: 1,500-2,000 receiving yards and 8.5-9 YPT over their first three seasons combined. Lockett’s marks through three yards were 1,816 and 8.8.

Those players, in order of year, were: Qadry Ismail, Horace Copeland, Bill Schroeder, Albert Connell, Steve Breaston, Brian Hartline, and Martavis Bryant.

I know what you’re thinking. Bust out the cocaine, cause this is a party! But this is the reality of Lockett’s first three seasons. They were fine, good even, but the statistical results do not fall far out of line with an average-ish number two or three receiver. Yes, Lockett dealt with a broken leg and the Seahawks are a rushing offense, but the other seven players also dealt with their own set of unique circumstances. None perhaps bigger than the fact that at least five of them played in a much different era.

Some of them also got to those marks not by having three consistently fine seasons, but in the case of Breaston, Connell, and Schroeder, having a poor season and then a breakout season over 1,000 yards. Breaston finished with four adequate years, Connell really only had two, Schroeder had three over 900 yards. Copeland was an okay receiver for the Bucs for four years and that’s pretty much his career.

Ismail is perhaps the best comp for Lockett because he stuck around mostly for his abilities on special teams, then remarkably broke out as a receiver at age 29 for the Baltimore Ravens, posting two 1,000-yard seasons for them. And Bryant, we’ll see, but his fourth season (not including the one he was suspended for) wasn’t very positive.

Now Hartline did have a 1,000-yard campaign in year four — similar to where Lockett is at — and then another 1,000-yard season after that. But for the most part, that was it for Hartline and he was trending down in Y/T by age 27 — same age that Lockett is turning this year.

Let’s try another way to comp: What about a player’s Year 3-4? Lockett has 1,520 yards, 12 touchdowns, 10.8 Y/T and a catch rate of 72.3%. Phenomenal on those last two figures.

I narrowed a PFREF search down to a yards range, a Y/T above 9.5 and a catch rate above 65% and something really funny happened. The only other player to match Lockett in that range over the last 30 years was a guy who had his place in Seattle a few years earlier.

Golden Tate.

Now, that’s pretty good news! Tate was similar to Lockett in that he was always impressive with the ball in his hands, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get the ball in his hands. He was kind of unreliable next to Baldwin for the first 2-3 years of his career but then broke out in year four and then after he went to the Detroit Lions, became more of a star in a wide open offense.

It is possible that Lockett has had a career year already. It is also possible that he’ll experience the same trajectory as Tate.

Tate spent two years next to Calvin Johnson, then became the number one in 2016 as the team added Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin. Lockett now finds himself as the de facto number one for the Seahawks — but is he ready to capitalize on the increase in targets?

That’s the biggest question for me because Lockett’s career high in that category is just 71. Tate’s average number of targets over the last six seasons: 124. That includes 99 in his final season with Seattle, an increase of about 30% over Lockett’s career high. Can Lockett go from a 70-target player to a 110-target player (Baldwin’s average from 2014-2017) without losing too big of a chunk of those numbers we revere so much:

Yards per target and catch rate.

That’ll be the test in 2019 and of course the Seahawks are going to really need him given the loss of Baldwin and the lack of experience with pretty much every other receiver in this group worth watching. There is only one other receiver on the team who I’d say is guaranteed a spot on the final 53 man roster and there’s a chance that Lockett will be the only receiver on the team to have more than 500 career yards once Week 1 gets here.

In fact, there’s a chance he’ll be the only one. Let’s get to the names and see where the Seahawks could be left after final cutdowns.

Guaranteed: Lockett, D.K. Metcalf

As mentioned in the beginning, Lockett may not be the fan favorite. When Seattle drafted Metcalf, many fans breathed a huge sigh of relief that “unknowns” L.J. Collier and Marquise Blair would headline the 2019 class. Metcalf is the headliner instead — a player projected by some to go in the first round who fell to the bottom of the second and a guy who breeds fantasies in more way than one.

There’s a lot of time for things to develop as they’ll develop in the next three months, but Lockett and Metcalf figure to get most of Russell Wilson’s attention in 2019 barring a signing or trade.

Next Up: Gary Jennings, David Moore

While it is not a guarantee — stop or my mom will shoot if you tell me (chris harper) that being a fourth round pick is a guarantee because that’s flat out (chris harper) a stretch of the word “guarantee” — Jennings is very close to having already made this team. There’s very little standing in his way and the fourth round is close to a guarantee. I’ll give you that.

I think we can all agree that Moore flashed some fun stuff last season but we also must come to a consensus that he has work to do before he separates himself from the name Chris Matthews.

Give Me 2.75 Million Reasons: Jaron Brown

As of now, Brown is the only other receiver on the team with more than 500 yards. And it ain’t much more. The team would save $2.75 million by releasing him which is not a ton but also not nothing. Could the team find another Brown in the form of a player who costs under $1 million?

If It Burns, It Churns: John Ursua, Keenan Reynolds, Malik Turner, Amara Darboh, Jazz Ferguson, Caleb Scott, Terry Wright

Once the team probably settles on Lockett, Metcalf, Jennings, and then maybe Moore or Brown, they have a handful of names to sort through to look for the fifth and possibly sixth receivers on the team. Unless they cut both Moore and Brown due to several of these guys stepping up; the Seahawks will also 100% sign at least one more receiver who is a “name” around the league a la Marshall, T.O., and so on.

I think it’s spinning wheels to guess which of these names will make the team though everyone has a right to their opinion. I simply don’t think there’s anything concrete to go off of until you see how a player performs in a real NFL game and that’s not the case for most of these guys. The ones who it is — Darboh, Reynolds, Turner — haven’t shown anything as of yet. We know they’re high on these players, but if they weren’t, why would they have kept them? Teams don’t typically sign guys they don’t like, but few guys you like actually become guys we like.

Once September gets here though, who will Pete Carroll be left liking as Lockett swims in a sea of guys we’ve hardly met?