BY Art Thiel 04:18PM 06/05/2019

Thiel: In Lockett, Seahawks still have a No. 1

Tyler Lockett and Russell Wilson combined on an astonishing statistical feat in 2018 that is akin to NFL perfection. So the retirement of Doug Baldwin as No. 1 is being well-managed.

Tyler Lockett and Russell Wilson last season hooked up in stastistical perfection. / Seahawks.com

A bit lost in the run-up during the week of the Seahawks’ playoff game at Dallas in January was a regular-season statistical feat on offense that not only was a club record, the NFL had never seen its like since the data was tracked.

QB Russell Wilson targeted WR Tyler Lockett 70 times in 2018. He completed 57, including 10 touchdowns. None were intercepted. According to a formula devised by the NFL and tracked since 2002, the tandem made for a passer rating of 158.3. The figure is the formula’s maximum possible. In the parlance of the trade: Perfect.

Adding to the aura, Wilson last season was sacked a career-high 51 times, or 3.1 a game, eighth-most in the NFL and up from 2.7 a year earlier. So whatever plaudits were given to the upgraded offensive line for its run blocking, it wasn’t as if the pass protection let Wilson sit in a high-back leather chair and light a Meerschaum pipe waiting for Lockett to get open.

More aura: The perfect-passer record broken was set with a mere 15 attempts. So more than quadrupling the mark invokes the sports term Beamonesque.

The point is worthy of consideration this spring because the Seahawks are preparing for their first season in the past nine without WR Doug Baldwin. You may have read that his  30-year-old, 190-pound body surrendered to the game’s brutalities, and he’s retiring.

The understandable lamentations and apprehensions that have settled in over replacing him overlook a key point:

The Seahawks already did that last season. With Lockett.

Not precisely, of course. Besides his remarkable quicks as well as ball-hawking that put him in the top tier of NFL receivers, Baldwin morphed into a leader of a sort that can’t be directly replicated. But injuries kept Baldwin to 13 games and 50 receptions, 618 yards and five touchdowns.

In terms of the Seahawks identifying a No. 1 receiver, Lockett, 27 in September, has made his bones, both from the slot and and outside. According to Pro Football Focus, Lockett’s scrimmage plays were nearly split between the jobs. And he rushed 13 times for 69 yards, and returned 25 punts and 19 kickoffs, although both were career lows as his scrimmage load increased.

Some fans were surprised when the Seahawks a year ago extended Lockett’s contract with three years and $31 million. But the coaches knew what they had: A reliably explosive force not easily tracked. That’s the short route to perfection with a quarterback.

“The best weapon for us is when they don’t know where Tyler is going to be,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said after practice this week. “So we’ll move him around. He can do so many things so well. He’s sees the game instinctively so well that he’s a hard match-up.”

Lockett’s increased work in Baldwin’s slot spot has taken him out of his comfort zone, but no one but him seems to notice.

“Some of those things that we haven’t really done together — some routes that I haven’t really gotten to run like that because I wasn’t in the slot as much — we’re working on,” he said. “At the beginning when you do something you’re not used to, it feels uncomfortable. But in order to get comfortable, you got to do it over and over and over.”

As the No. 1, Lockett will see more double coverage, particularly since the two young veterans likely filling the second and third receiving spots, Jaron Brown and David Moore, have yet to do much in Seattle.

“Everybody might have said that I was a number two receiver, because y’all agree, but I got more targets when I was a number three than I did last year,” he said. “So to me, it doesn’t really matter what you’re seen as. If you’re number one, number two . . . it’s all about what you do whenever you’re out there on the field.”

Knowing Baldwin likely was done, the Seahawks armored up in the draft by using a second-round pick on D.K. Metcalf, a fourth-rounder on Gary Jennings and a seventh-rounder on John Ursua.

The Seahawks rarely draft so heavily for one unit, especially on offense. But just as a year ago, the offense has to cover for a young defense that still hasn’t settled on how to replace the Legion of Boom.

While Jennings hasn’t practiced yet because of a sore hamstring, Metcalf and Ursua have shown glimmers and stumbles, and likely will remain mysteries until well after the season begins. Which is why Lockett, apart from Wilson, might be the most irreplaceable guy on the team, because his unit lacks proven depth.

So he needs to emulate perhaps Baldwin’s most vital career virtue.

“It’s all about durability,” Lockett said. “It’s all about being able to do what you can while you’re on the field. Last year I really didn’t get hit that much, and I was in a lot.

“I try to work on knowing what hits to take, knowing what hits not to take. If it’s third and long and I got to go get it, I’m probably going to get hit. But if it’s first and 10 and I get a good play, I’m probably going to fall.”

When you’re a bitty guy like Lockett (5-10, 182), or Baldwin (5-10, 190), or Wilson (5-11, 215) in a big man’s game, survival is paramount. So stretching beyond that to statistical perfection is final-frontier stuff.

Memo to Schottenheimer: Keep Lockett’s crossing routes to a minimum, and everyone in blue lives long and prospers.


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YourThoughts

  • tor5

    Typical great analysis, Art! A few things really stuck out for me:
    1. That scatterplot is amazing. It really puts the freakishness of the Wilson-Lockett achievement in perspective.
    2. Did I read that right…? Baldwin only had 7 fewer receptions playing 13 games? Pretty respectable given his injuries. Man, I’m really gonna miss that guy.
    3. The passer rating stat itself sucks. Since when did “perfection” equal 158.3? Everyone knows perfect equals 100. And how is 57 of 70 “perfect”? I think the stats guys were only halfway into developing the formula when someone started using it.

    • art thiel

      Baldwin is extremely tough. I hope he doesn’t have chronic long-term problems after the last season of, as he put it, hell.

      Regarding passer rating formulas, there are better ones, but that’s the one used since 02. It created the standard for the set of qualified receivers.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mr. Tor
      Yes on the rating stat opinion including the nonsensical 158.3 ceiling. You might enjoy playing with the passer rating formula: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/about/qb-rating.htm

      There is a higher ceiling for rating college passers for some reason.

      More interesting is the ESPN attempt at rating, which they call Total QBR.
      https://www.espn.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/123701/how-is-total-qbr-calculated-we-explain-our-quarterback-rating
      They try to weigh each pass with respect to game outcome and context instead of blind numbers like pro and college passer rating formulae. “Context matters, I guess.” Read away!

      • art thiel

        Total QBR is a good tool because it’s more comprehensive. But it rates only QBs, not specific QB-WR efficiency, which was the point here.

      • tor5

        Thanks for this! I mostly chuckle about the bizarre PR stat, but I know how seriously some take such things. But part of what is funny is that, given how seriously it is analyzed, how did they settle on a stat with such an arbitrary range and where “perfect” can include incompletes? And, as you point out, different contexts determine different passing goals. For instance, a 1-yard pass for a 1st down might be a huge deal, but any other 1-yard pass is likely a failed play…a distinction the passer rating misses entirely.

        • art thiel

          ESPN’s QBR accounts for many conditions, like a seven-yard completion on 3rd and 10 being valued less. But it takes a team of analysts inputting their judgments for the rating. Not very accessible to fans.

          • tor5

            So I looked up the QBR. I’m sure it has more validity but, wow, it’s insanely complicated. I think it takes the whole thing in the wrong direction.

  • Guy K. Browne

    I hope Lockett can maintain his proficiency without Baldwin around to make the dbs think twice about on whom to key their coverage.

    • art thiel

      Tp counter, Lockett figures to line up all over the formations, and probably have a few more fly sweeps. He’ll see lots of press coverage.

  • jafabian

    Tyler is going to needs at least couple players among the WR’s to step up and take the heat off of him. Many are looking at Metcalf to shine but I’m watching Amara Darboh who has two years to study the playbook and made the All Big-10 second team as a fifth year senior for Michigan. Will Dissly is back at TE who was showing promise before his season ending injury.

    I’m thinking the club is a few players short for an extended playoff run but then Super Bowl team had Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice pencilled in as the starting WR’s and ended it with Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse rotating. So stranger things have happened.

    • art thiel

      Good point about the ’13 team. Seahawks badly underused Brown last season.

      • jafabian

        Completely agree. I figure Brown is the reason why the Hawks didn’t pursue Jermaine Kearse in the offseason despite the relative youth among the WR corps.

  • Effzee

    I’ll reserve judgement until I see other teams treat him as a #1 receiver for an entire season. Impressed, but not yet a believer.

    • art thiel

      Fair enough. He’s going to need some help from Brown, Moore and the rooks ASAP to make the unit NFL average.

  • Matt Kite

    Lockett’s broken leg a few seasons ago was, if memory serves, quite gruesome. It has to take a lot of courage to return to the game after such a horrific injury. And to come back and have so much success? Amazing.

    • art thiel

      Good point, Matt. He wasn’t fully back for the 2017 season. He certainly was back in ’18.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    I agree – Tyler Lockette really became numero uno for the Hawks last season. Great to see him advance after such a grueling leg injury. It seemed like Lockette was quite open, or had good separation on many of those catches – it was almost an afterthought for anyone to attempt to tackle him – he was usually gone. Certainly he’s very talented and can get separation at the right time, but you have to figure that Doug Baldwin’s presence on the field had a part in distracting the defense. It’s always going to be a combination of threats and the balance of strengths that will weigh in to the successes of any individual. Tyler Lockette’s best chance to shine will be if we can get solid production out of the other receivers, perhaps one that stands out as another great threat, and if we can continue to force the TE production. Which brings up the question of Will Dissely – kinda wondering how his recovery is going. He came on so strong last year that I could see him being a bit more like a second year player, even though he missed so much of last season.
    Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      Dissly’s injury was serious. The Seahawks aren’t counting on him at season’s start.

  • Husky73

    Wasn’t Lockett signed primarily as a kick returner? He has done a great job advancing through the depth chart to become an impact player. I am a big Lockett Rocket fan.

    • art thiel

      As I mentioned in the column, he returned 25 punts and 19 kickoffs. But the Seahawks want to lighten that load in the fall.

  • Ken S.

    Baldwin’s retirement leaves a big hole in the receiving corps. Without him on the field, unless the Hawks land another big receiver talent, Lockett will be the main focus of the opposing defense. I think he’s ready for prime time, lets hope he stays healthy and can put up some big receiving and rushing numbers.

    • art thiel

      Rookie Metcalf is big receiver talent. But it took Golden Tate more than a season to reach his ceiling.