By Brady Henderson ESPN
No one questioned whether Lockett was a player the Seahawks should keep in the fold. He’d been a productive part of their passing game and their special teams for his first three seasons, not to mention a model teammate and employee. But some observers wondered if he was worth a price tag that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid No. 2 receivers.
Wonder no more.
Lockett has scored a touchdown in all but one game this year while establishing himself as the Seahawks’ best big-play threat. And if you’re counting all the positive developments of their 4-3 start, you’d have to include the fact that Lockett is having the best season of his career.
“He’s showing who he is,” said Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s long-time No. 1 receiver after the Seahawks’ win over Detroit. “Tyler’s been a very consistent player since he came into the league. He’s been obviously very explosive and fast, but he’s now showing the ability to catch the football consistently. That’s huge. You can say that about a lot of receivers, but when it comes down to it, who are the best receivers when the ball is thrown to them? How many times do they come up with the catch? Tyler’s up there. I’m just proud of him. He’s been through a lot just to get to this point so I’m really proud of his success right now.”
It’s an ascension that the Seahawks were expecting when they gave him a $30.75 million deal shortly before the season instead of letting him play out of the final year of his rookie contract.
The $10.25 million average of Lockett’s extension ranks 21st among receivers, according to Spotrac.com. That was hard for some to reconcile with Lockett’s offensive production over his first three seasons. According to ESPN charting, he ranked 50th among receivers in catches (137), 49th in receiving yards (1,816) and tied for 58th in touchdown receptions (nine) during that span.
But the notion that Seattle overpaid Lockett based on his receiving production to date was misguided. A team doesn’t pay a player strictly for what he has done so much as it makes a calculated bet that the player will at least sustain his level of production or, in this case, increase it. The Seahawks believed that Lockett was an ascending player. He only turned 26 in September and had shown all offseason that he had regained the speed that was missing when he came back last year from a badly broken leg.
Plus, the Seahawks had just seen the wide receiver market yield $8 million a year for Paul Richardson, who had played behind Lockett in Seattle. Albert Wilson got the same amount while two other receivers whom Lockett had outproduced — Marqise Lee ($8.5 million) and Donte Moncrief ($9.6 million) — got more. So the Seahawks had to conclude that Lockett would have been considerably more expensive to re-sign after this season, especially if he had the type of year they thought he would.
That’s looking like a good bet.
Lockett’s six touchdown catches, tied for third-most among NFL receivers, already matches his career-high from his rookie season. His 25 receptions, 394 yards and 15.8-yard average put him on pace to top his previous bests as well.
And he has done that while playing in the confines of an offense that is more geared toward the run than any in the NFL. According to ESPN charting, Seattle’s dropback percentage of 49.5 is by far the league’s lowest.
On throws to Lockett this season, Russell Wilson has an 80.6 percent completion rate, a 12.71 yards-per-attempt average, six touchdowns to zero interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3, according to ESPN charting. He has been the team’s most productive receiver with Baldwin off to a slow start that has included two and a half games missed because of a knee injury.
None of this would have been easy to imagine last season, when Lockett was still working his way back from the compound leg fracture he suffered on Christmas Eve in 2016. He played in every game in 2017 — an accomplishment on its own, to be sure — but he wasn’t himself.
“He wasn’t the same in terms of the way he could prepare on a daily basis,” coach Pete Carroll said this week. “He had always been the guy that was on the field first and off the field last. He couldn’t do that because he had to get ready just to practice day after day. He did everything he could and was diligent about the way he worked, but he just wasn’t free. It broke my heart to see him not be able to be that guy because that’s just the person that he is and the competitor that he is. He came back this year, he’s raring to go. He’s off to a fantastic start to the season.”