A bit lost in the run-up during the week of the Seattle 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.
Quarterback Russell Wilson targeted wide receiver 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 per 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 wide receiver 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 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 sees the game instinctively so well that he’s a hard matchup.”
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.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.