Last week, the Seahawks addressed their greatest positional need by signing veteran defensive end Ezekiel Ansah to a one-year contract, filling a major void left behind with the departure of Frank Clark.
After bolstering the pass rush with Ansah, Seattle’s most significant remaining question mark resides on the offensive side of the football, as the team must find a replacement for receiver Doug Baldwin in the slot.
The Seahawks knew the ever-so-reliable Baldwin had retirement on his mind well before last month’s NFL Draft, as the veteran underwent three offseason surgeries following an injury-ravaged 2018 season. This development allowed general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll to be proactive finding long-term replacement options.
In total, Seattle used three selections on receivers, picking D.K. Metcalf in the second round, Gary Jennings in the fourth round, and John Ursua in the seventh round.
But as Schneider has mentioned several times during his tenure in Seattle, it can take receivers a few seasons to hit their stride in the NFL and asking players like Jennings or Ursua to step into the starting lineup right away could be a recipe for disaster.
Which begs the question – if none of the aforementioned rookies are ready for the responsibility of filling Baldwin’s shoes in the slot, why not Tyler Lockett?
The speedy 182-pound Lockett, who now stands as Seattle’s most experienced receiver for quarterback Russell Wilson, celebrated a career year in 2018. Along with establishing career-highs in receptions (57) and receiving yards (965), he hauled in a team-best 10 touchdowns and Wilson posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating when targeting him.
Given his quickness, route running savvy, and football IQ, Lockett has all the tools necessary to be every bit as dynamic as Baldwin working from the slot. And when he’s had the opportunity, he’s thrived, consistently finding soft spots in coverage and using his athleticism to create separation.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lockett lined up in the slot for nearly half of his snaps (457 out of 953) last season. As expected based on his absurd overall efficiency in 2018, he made the most of these opportunities, leading all qualified receivers with an 89.7 percent catch rate and finishing second to only Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs by averaging 17.5 yards per reception out of the slot.
The problem? When Lockett ran routes from the slot last year, Wilson didn’t look for him often, targeting him on just 12.4 percent of his snaps from the position.
Thanks to his blazing speed, Lockett’s calling card since joining the Seahawks in 2015 has been beating opponents vertically, as Pro Football Focus credited him with a league-best 77.8 percent deep catch rate on throws 20 or more yards downfield. While some of that production came from the slot, the bulk of his damage downfield happened on routes on the outside.
By choosing to use Lockett primarily out of the slot, Seattle would potentially restrict those big-play opportunities, mitigating his greatest attribute as a player. Ultimately, the Seahawks must decide if they can afford to take such a risk offensively after losing Baldwin.
If Metcalf becomes an instant threat on the outside as expected, his presence could open up room on underneath routes for Lockett out of the slot and create matchup nightmares for defenses. Add in Jennings propensity for explosive plays and it’s not out of the question the passing game could be more lethal than it was a year ago.
But as always the case with rookie receivers, there’s no guarantee Metcalf, Jennings, or Ursua will be ready to be impact players right off the bat and the Seahawks must plan accordingly.
While Lockett could certainly see an uptick in snaps from the slot minus Baldwin, it would be an astute move for the Seahawks to continue balancing where their premier receiver lines up to limit predictability, ease the burden on rookies, and most importantly, play to his strengths.