A week or so ago, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not Seattle would/could trade for Julio Jones and what that would actually/potentially do for Seattle’s offense if it were to happen.
While it was very-super-extremely exciting to picture the “what ifs” and the “can you imagines,” many of the articles and comments focused on the pairing of DK Metcalf + Julio Jones with Tyler Lockett seeming to be an afterthought.
The “implicit shade” in those articles and comments - along with a couple of other things I was working on / pondering - prompted me to dig into Tyler Lockett’s career.
That digging led to two articles.
The first one went live on Wednesday and was “An appreciative look at the first 6 years of Tyler Lockett’s career”.
Today’s article is less nostalgic and “gee golly”; more analytical and “oh, really?”.
Perhaps even a bit . . . “objective.”
Today we’re going to look at (and dig into) 2 simple-not-so-simple questions:
One. Who were the best receivers to come out of the 2015 NFL Draft?
Two. Is Tyler Lockett the crème de la crème of that bunch?
Revisiting the 2015 NFL Draft
There were 256 players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. According to Pro Football Reference, 34 of those 256 players were classified as Wide Receivers.
The inimitable Tyler Lockett was one of the 34.
Six wide receivers were selected in Round 1: Amari Cooper (#4, Alabama); Kevin White (#7, West Virginia); DeVante Parker (#14, Louisville); Nelson Agholor (#20, USC); Breshad Perriman (#26, UCF); and Phillip Dorsett (#29, Miami-FL).
Five wideouts were selected in Round 3. Tyler Lockett (#69, K-State) was the first of the 5. Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong was selected one spot after Lockett at #70 overall. Georgia’s Chris Conley went at #76, followed by Auburn’s Sammie Coates (#87) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery (#94).
Twenty-one wide receivers were selected on Day Three (Rounds 4 through 7). Very few of the Day Three receivers had careers worth mentioning and only 4 of them are still in the league today. Those 4 are: Jamison Crowder (R4.105, Duke), Stefon Diggs (R5.146, Maryland), J.J. Nelson (R5.159, UAB), and Darren Waller (R6.204, Georgia Tech).
Note: Some of you are thinking, “Darren Waller is a tight end,” and you’re right. We will cross that bridge when we get to it though.
If you tally up the names above, you’ll find that we have a total of 17 college receivers whose professional careers need to be evaluated.
I doubt anyone is interested in this being a 6,000-word article though, so we’re gonna bulldoze 2/3rds of them with very little fanfare. That will leave us with a half dozen semi-finalists to look at more closely.
Round One - Bulldozer Edition
Before callously tossing these young men aside, I would like to acknowledge the fact that it takes A LOT of time, dedication, hard work, and talent to put yourself in the position to be drafted by an NFL team.
That said, this bulldozer ain’t gonna drive itself!
Cut #1, #2, #3, #4, #5: Devin Smith (15 of 40 for 248), Kevin White (25 of 48 for 285), Jaelen Strong (31 of 52 for 330), Sammy Coates (29 of 64 for 528), and Dorial Green-Beckham (68 of 141 for 941) are either out of the league (Smith, Strong, Coates, and Green-Beckham) or struggling to hold on to the edge of San Francisco’s roster (White).
Cut #6: Ty Montgomery is a hybrid WR/RB. He played 3-1/2 seasons with Green Bay and totaled nearly 1,700 scrimmage yards (849 rushing, 827 receiving). He’s been with 4 teams over the last 3 seasons though (including the 1/2 season with the Packers) and has a total of 321 scrimmage yards the last 2 seasons (204 rushing, 117 receiving). Not exactly in Tyler Lockett’s league.
Cut #7: J.J. Nelson ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine. He had 1,375 receiving yards his first 3 seasons in Arizona, but only had 64 (in 14 games) in Year 4. Nelson is on the Colts’ roster right now, but with only 2 appearances and 36 yards since leaving Arizona, and having been on 4 different rosters in the last 26 months, I don’t think anyone is expecting big things from him as he wraps up his career.
Cut #8: Phillip Dorsett got the “former #1 pick joins Seattle” treatment last season, but didn’t stick (except on IR) and his career totals are 124 of 212 for 1,634. He’s currently in Jacksonville with seemingly 150 other former-Seahawks players and coaches.
Cut #9, #10: Chris Conley (191 of 321 for 2,484) and Breshad Perriman (125 of 255 for 2,066) are still in the league, but they have about half the receiving yardage that Lockett does so neither one advances to the semi-finals.
Cut #11: Nelson Agholor signed a 2-year, $22M free agent contract with the Patriots in March, fresh off of a career-high 896 receiving yards with the Raiders in 2020. He has never tallied a 1,000-yard season, but his career totals are respectable: 87 games; 75 starts; 272 receptions on 456 targets; 3,411 yards. Still, whether it’s “fair” or not, folks tend to expect more from a first-round pick at a skill position. Thus, when it came down to three receivers with somewhat similar stats for the final cut, I kept the two that were picked on Day Three and axed the guy who went #20 overall.
Alright, as promised, our list is down to 6 - one of whom is now a tight end.
Note: We’re still not to the bridge that I mentioned crossing, but we are almost within sight of it :)
Here is a brief look at each of the semi-finalists:
(in alphabetical order):
(by first name):
Amari Cooper was the #4 overall pick in the same draft that Lockett was the #69 overall pick which will make this an interesting comparison. Cooper leads Lockett in many of the traditional categories, but he’s been targeted nearly 200 more times over their first 6 seasons (714 vs. 518) so that makes sense. Is Cooper “the gold standard” of the 2015 draft? We’ll find out.
Darren Waller struggled with injuries, suspensions, and substance abuse early in his career, and had a combined total of 18 catches for 178 yards across parts of the 2015, 2016, and 2018 seasons. The idea of comparing him to Lockett 2 years ago would have been farcical. But now, 3 years sober, playing tight end, and having put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons . . . Waller is a legitimate semi-finalist and someone to keep an eye on in 2021.
DeVante Parker didn’t become his team’s #1 wideout until 2019, but he looked good pulling down 10 catches on 12 targets for 110 yards against us last season, and both his career totals (298 of 511 for 4,212) and his combined totals the last 2 seasons (135 of 231 for 1,995) are enough to justify his inclusion in the semi-finals. But will they be enough to land him in the top 3?
Jamison Crowder has played in 84 career games (47 starts) across 6 seasons, compiling 358 receptions on 540 targets for 4,160 yards - a feat which makes him one of only five receivers from the 2015 class with more than 4,000 yards. One can’t help but wonder, though, if he’s a victim of his environment - i.e. what would his numbers be if he hadn’t been drafted by Washington and/or hadn’t spent the last 2 years playing for the woeful J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets?
Stefon Diggs was the 146th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Like Amari Cooper, he leads Lockett in many of the traditional categories. And, like Cooper, it makes sense since Diggs has been targeted 700 times during his 6 years in the league. Oh, and after being “very good” in Minnesota, he became “elite” after he landed in Buffalo - like, “led the league in receiving by a healthy margin” elite.
Tyler Lockett is a local hero and really doesn’t need an introduction. Plus, the whole point of this article is to compare him to his peers from the 2015 NFL Draft - obviously Lockett will be in the finals.
I tipped my hand a little bit in the previous section so none of these cuts should come as a big surprise.
DeVante has 4,212 career receiving yards which is the 4th-most receiving yards among our semi-finalists. Given that these are the semi-finals and I’m narrowing the list to the the top-3, being 4th in yards is almost enough to eliminate him by itself; especially when you consider that 4,212 is also his total yards which puts him 5th.
That said, Parker has two primary arguments for moving on: (1) His 1,202 receiving yards in 2019 is the 2nd-best single-season total among the 6 semi-finalists and ranked #5 league-wide that year (#4 among wideouts). (2) His career average of 14.1 yards per reception is #1 among the 2015 draftees.
Unfortunately, countering those arguments is brutally easy: (1) DeVante’s second-best season was 793 yards (2020) and, excluding 2019, his average across the other five seasons is 602 yards. (2) His being #1 in yards per reception is offset by being #5 in yards per target (8.7).
In fact, Parker ranks in the bottom-3 in several categories, including: games played (5th, 83); starts (4th, 56); touchdowns (5th, 22); targets (5th, 511); and receptions (5th, 298).
The death knell for him though is his last-place finish in career catch rate (58.3%) and QB passer rating when targeted (88.7); both by sizable margins .
Crowder is more or less on par with Parker, except that he has zero arguments for moving on. In fact, he nearly missed the semi-finals.
The primary reason I included Crowder is that he has the 5th-most receiving yards in the class (4,160), the 2nd-most return yards (699), the 3rd-most rushing yards (82), and the 4th-most total yards (4,940).
Unfortunately, Jamison Crowder has never had a 1,000 yards receiving in a single season and his career high is 847 (2016). For context, each of the other 5 wideouts have topped 1,000 yards at least once, and one of them has done it 5 times in 6 years.
Over the past 6 seasons, Crowder has produced a QB passer rating of 98.1 when targeted, and he has career averages of 11.6 yards per reception, 7.7 yards per target, and 49.5 yards per game - - none of which place him higher than 5th among the semi-finalists.
What ultimately eliminates Crowder though is the “good not great” label that can be attached to him without fear of reprisal.
And it doesn’t help his case that the Jets are asking him to take a pay cut.
In all honesty, I was tempted to put 4 players in the final.
Despite Waller having moved to tight end and despite his having exceedingly negligible stats prior to 2019, I strongly believe that he is currently the 4th-best pass catcher from the 2015 draft.
- Over the past 2 seasons, only Stefon Diggs has more receiving yards (2,665 to 2,341)
- Waller leads our semi-finalists in total first downs from 2019-2020 with 122
- His 199 touches over the past 2 seasons leads our semi-finalists
- He has the best career catch rate (73.9%) in the 2015 class
- Waller’s career QB passer rating when targeted (112.0) trails only Tyler Lockett (125.7)
Stats and rankings aside, I can’t completely ignore the position change or the fact that Waller nearly washed out of the league. He is obviously incredibly talented and his story is inspiring.
Sadly, talent + story aren’t enough - not when the 3 guys ahead of him (Cooper, Diggs, and Lockett) each have an unassailable argument for being in the final round and Waller doesn’t.
C’est la vie.
Mano y mano y mano
It’s a 3-man race at this point, with an R1 (Amari Cooper, #4), an R3 (Tyler Lockett, #69), and an R5 (Stefon Diggs, #146) differentiating themselves from all of the other wideouts in their class.
So which of our 3 finalists is the best WR from the 2015 draft?
In the previous section, I said that each of our finalists has an “unassailable argument” for being in the final. Let’s start with those:
- Amari Cooper: Led the 2015 class in receiving yards their rookie year as well as their 2nd year, has more career receiving yards than anyone in the class, and has topped 1,000 yards five of his six years in the league!
- Stefon Diggs: Finished the 2020 season with 127 receptions for 1,535 yards; was #1 in the league in both categories (by a comfortable margin), and no other receiver from the 2015 class has come close to those numbers.
- Tyler Lockett: Before NoE put together “one of the greatest wide receiver seasons in NFL history”, no wideout had ever finished a season with a perfect QB passer rating (158.3) when targeted more than 15 times.
Worth noting: PFF’s 2021 WR rankings have Diggs at #8, Cooper at #14, and Lockett at #22. Say what you will about PFF’s rankings (particularly of late), but I doubt a national audience would quibble with that order - i.e. Diggs >> Cooper >> Lockett (even if we think they’re wrong).
A whole bunch of bullet points
Unassailable arguments aside, let’s look at some statistics (and quasi-statistics) to compare our 3 finalists as we work toward answering the question of who the best receiver from the 2015 NFL Draft is.
Size (and Age; DOB)
- Cooper: 6’1”, 211 (27; 6/17/94)
- Diggs: 6’0”, 195 (28; 11/29/93)
- Lockett: 5’10”, 182 (29; 9/28/92)
Note: The age shown is the player’s age during the upcoming season - i.e. Lockett is 28 right now but turn 29 during the 2021 season.
Combine results (for fun)
- Cooper: 4.42 forty; 3.89 shuttle; 6.71 3-cone; 33 vertical; 120 broad-jump
- Diggs: 4.46 forty; 4.32 shuttle; 7.03 3-cone; 35 vertical; 115 broad-jump
- Lockett: 4.40 forty; 4.07 shuttle; 6.89 3-cone; 35.5 vertical; 121 broad-jump
- Cooper: Signed 5-year, $100M contract on March 17th, 2020, with $40M fully guaranteed
- Diggs: Signed 5-year, $72M extension on July 31st, 2018, with $40M guaranteed
- Lockett: Signed 4-year, $69M extension on April 2nd, 2021, with $24M guaranteed at signing and $37M in total guarantees
Note: By APY, the order would be Cooper ($20M), Lockett ($17.25M), Diggs ($14.4M).
2021 cap hit
Snap counts, 2015-2020
- Cooper: 4,397 offensive + 22 ST = 4,419 total
- Diggs: 4,739 offensive + 21 ST = 4,760 total
- Lockett: 4,758 offensive + 674 ST = 5,432 total
Receiving yards ranking on own team, 2015-2020
- Cooper: 1st, 1st, 2nd, 5th/1st*, 1st, 1st
- Diggs: 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st
- Lockett: 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 2nd
* Cooper was traded to Dallas during the 2018 season. He played 6 games for Oakland and 9 for Dallas, finishing 5th in receiving yards for the Raiders and 1st for the Cowboys.
- Cooper: 5 (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020)
- Diggs: 3 (2018, 2019, 2020)
- Lockett: 2 (2019, 2020)
Receiving stats, 2015-2020
- Cooper: 449 of 714 for 6,211 yards; 38 TDs; 290 1st Downs (FDs)
- Diggs: 492 of 700 for 6,158 yards; 38 TDs; 283 FDs
- Lockett: 376 of 518 for 4,892 yards; 37 TDs; 228 FDs
- Cooper: 66.8 yards/game; 13.8 yards/reception; 8.7 yards/target; 62.9% catch rate
- Diggs: 71.6 yards/game; 12.5 yards/reception; 8.8 yards/target; 70.3% catch rate
- Lockett: 51.5 yards/game; 13.0 yards/reception; 9.4 yards/target; 72.6% catch rate
QB rating when targeted
- Cooper: 100.1 career (season totals: 93.2; 92.2; 80.8; 115.8; 117.3; 98.2)
- Diggs: 111.0 career (season totals: 96.8; 106.2; 116.7; 107.9; 111.8; 118.4)
- Lockett: 125.7 career (season totals: 133.5; 96.0; 94.9; 158.3; 125.9; 119.6)
Rushing stats, 2015-2020
- Cooper: 14 carries for 41 yards (2.9 avg.)
- Diggs: 30 carries for 160 yards (5.3 avg.)
- Lockett: 38 carries for 256 yards (6.7 avg.) with 1 TD
The return game
- Cooper: 8 punt returns for 41 yards (5.1 avg.)
- Diggs: 6 punt returns for 45 yards (7.5 avg.); 1 kickoff return for 22 yards
- Lockett: 143 punt returns for 1,068 yards (7.5 avg.) with 1 TD; 127 kickoff returns for 3,188 yards (25.1 avg.) with 2 TDs
All-purpose yards, 2015-2020
- Cooper: 6,293 (1,048.8 per season)
- Diggs: 6,385 (1,064.2 per season)
- Lockett: 9,404 (1,567.3 per season)
- Cooper: 234 (38x receiving, 3x 2-pt conversion)
- Diggs: 230 (38x receiving, 1x 2-pt conversion)
- Lockett: 248 (37x receiving, 1x rushing, 3x returns, 1x 2-pt conversion)
NFL Top 100 Honors (voted by active players)
- Cooper: 2017 (#53); 2019 (#64); 2020 (#49)
- Diggs: 2018 (#65); 2019 (#73); 2020 (#54)
- Lockett: 2019 (#98); 2020 (#65)
Pro Bowls + All-Pro Honors
- Cooper: 1x Pro Bowl (2016); 3x Pro Bowl alternate (2015, 2018, 2019)
- Diggs: 1x Pro Bowl (2020); 1x 1st-team All-Pro (2020)
- Lockett: 1x Pro Bowl (2015 - 1 of only 3 rookies nominated), 1x Pro Bowl alternate (2019); 1x 1st-team All-Pro (2015); 2x 2nd-team All-Pro (2016, 2017)
Other Honors (non-exhaustive)
- Cooper: Named to the 2015 All-Rookie team; 1x AFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 7, 2017); 2x NFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 12, 2018; Week 14, 2018)
- Diggs: Named to the 2015 All-Rookie team; 1x NFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 2, 2016); 1x AFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 16, 2020); quickest player in NFL history to hit 100 receptions with a new team
- Lockett: Named to 2015 All-Rookie team at 3 positions (WR, KR, PR); 2x NFC ST Player of the Month (September 2015, December/January 2015); 1x NFL Rookie of the Week (Week 14, 2015); 1x NFC ST Player of the Week (Week 17, 2015)
Regardless of how you personally choose to rank our 3 finalists, three things would seem to be pretty clear:
One. Tyler Lockett is one of the top three receivers from the 2015 draft.
Two. With 8 receivers having been picked before Lockett, at least 7 teams “made a mistake”.
At the end of the day, who you think is #1 probably comes down to where you live, which team(s) you follow, your personal preferences, and how you value what each of these receivers brings to the table.
For example: Do you prefer volume or efficiency? Is a receiver who returns kicks more valuable than one that doesn’t? Do awards and records matter more than stats? Do you play fantasy football?
My verdict is below, but what do you think?
Would it be a cop-out to say, “The jury is still out”?
Sure, the ‘homer” in me wants to say that Lockett is the #1 guy from the 2015 draft. And I could make a pretty strong case for it without mentioning a single one of Tyler Lockett’s stats.
Tyler Lockett just signed his 3rd contract with Seattle and has a very good chance of finishing his career having only ever played for one NFL team.
Neither of the other finalists can say that.
- Amari Cooper was drafted #4 overall by the Oakland Raiders and, despite racking up nearly 3,000 yards over his first 3 seasons, he was shipped off to Dallas for a 2019 R1 that ended up being #27 overall.
- Stefon Diggs had more than 4,600 receiving yards through 5 seasons and had signed a fat extension, but the Vikings thought he was replaceable and sent him to the Bills for a package of picks that included the 22nd overall selection in the 2020 draft.
Worth noting: Although Diggs led the league in receiving yards last year, the Vikings were right about him being replaceable.
Minnesota used pick #22 to select WR Justin Jefferson and then happily watched him set an NFL rookie record and break Randy Moss’s team record enroute to finishing #4 in the league with 1,400 yards on 88 receptions.
Statistically though, it’s pretty close to a push in my book.
And yet . . .
I appreciate history and historical achievements.
Amari Cooper is a helluva player, but he has never led the league in a meaningful category.
Stefon Diggs had the most receiving yards in the NFL last season, but it was “only” the 36th-best season (yardage-wise) in NFL history.
Tyler Lockett though . . .
He started his career by doing something that only one other player had ever done - record a punt return touchdown, a kickoff return touchdown, and at least 5 receiving touchdowns his rookie season.
Then he went out in 2018 and did something that no one in the history of the league had ever even come close to doing.
And THAT is why . . .
Tyler Lockett gets my vote as the best receiver from the 2015 draft class.