Since being drafted by the Seahawks in the third-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Tyler Lockett has been one of the most dazzling, consistently-productive return specialists in the NFL.
Earning three All-Pro honors, including First-Team distinction as a rookie, the speedy 182-pound Lockett has returned 112 kickoffs for nearly 3,000 yards and two touchdowns along with an additional punt returned for a score over the past four seasons.
But following Doug Baldwin’s release and retirement last month, Lockett will now have to step up as quarterback Russell Wilson’s new No. 1 target, a development that should give Seattle little choice but to remove him from special teams entirely.
Assuming Lockett’s time as one of the league’s most feared returners has come to a close, the Seahawks should turn to these five candidates as ideal replacement options.
When asked about who could be in line to take over for Lockett on special teams, coach Pete Carroll immediately mentioned McKissic, who has impressed on the practice field as a returner during the past few seasons.
“J.D. has always been one of the guys that we like putting back there.” Carroll said during Seattle’s mandatory minicamp. “He can catch punts and kickoffs. That’s like the first guy we think of, you know, so that would be the guy we go to.”
McKissic, who turns 26 in August, will be entering his fourth season with the Seahawks. Due to Lockett’s presence, the 195-pound Swiss Army Knife hasn’t had many opportunities to field kicks in regular season games, returning just two kickoffs for 40 yards in his career.
But after being listed as a running back and a receiver on Seattle’s roster in the past, he’s now listed as a return specialist. Possessing plenty of wiggle in open field to make tacklers miss and the top gear to take kicks and punts back for six, he will enter training camp as the presumptive favorite to succeed Lockett.
When discussing Seattle’s decision to select Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Carroll told reporters he expected the talented running back to contribute on special teams right away. After all, he did return seven kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns during his four years at San Diego State.
“He will be able to play on [special] teams and be a factor,” Carroll stated in his post-draft press conference. “The special teams aspect is so unique. He’ll be able to help take the burden off Tyler [Lockett].”
However, just as he struggled to find his footing in the backfield, Penny couldn’t take advantage of his limited opportunities to stand out as a returner either. Lacking the burst that made him such a dynamic force at the college level, he returned eight kicks for 140 yards, averaging less than 18 yards per return.
Reporting to offseason workouts in better shape and with an improved grasp of what it takes to be a successful pro, Penny drew raving reviews from Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer throughout the spring. Along with handling a larger workload next to Chris Carson in the backfield, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Seahawks give him another shot in the return game as well.
If you’re looking for a potential veteran wild card who could sneak his way onto the roster due to his ability on special teams, Reynolds might be the best bet.
With Doug Baldwin nursing a sore knee throughout training camp and the preseason last year, Reynolds received extensive snaps working out of the slot and nearly made the initial 53-man roster. Helping his cause, he also returned a few kicks and made a couple of special teams tackles in exhibition play.
Though lacking the top speed of a player like Lockett, Reynolds finished his decorated career at Navy as a Heisman finalist running a finely-tuned triple-option offense. He’s slippery with the football in his hands, can break through arm tackles in traffic, and his experience as an option quarterback helped him develop outstanding open field vision.
Hoping to make his second chance in Seattle count, the coaching staff has applauded his strong offseason on numerous occasions. As simply a receiver, he’s likely a long-shot to make the team, but emerging as a productive returner and making plays on kick and punt coverage would certainly bolster his odds of sticking around in September.
Ugo Amadi/Gary Jennings
Carroll didn’t name-drop any specific players aside from McKissic when pressed about replacing Lockett, but he did say that “some of the young guys looked good too.”
In a draft class loaded with special teams talent overall, several rookies could make an instant impact in the return game for Seattle. Most specifically, Amadi and Jennings offer plenty of intrigue given their experience as returners at the college level.
A jack of all trades, Amadi didn’t return any kicks or punts until his senior season, but when called upon, he quickly became a threat as a punt returner for Oregon. He returned 14 punts for 223 yards and showed off his open field moves on a dazzling touchdown return against UCLA.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jennings started off his career at West Virginia primarily contributing on special teams, returning seven kickoffs for 145 yards and 34 punts for 108 yards. Once he became a much bigger factor in the Mountaineers’ high-octane offense, he no longer factored into return duties.
Being mid-round picks, Amadi and Jennings shouldn’t feel like their respective roster spots are secure, especially with the impressive depth at receiver and safety. Both would help themselves considerably by actively competing for a role in the return game.