Lockett may be Seahawks’ most impressive rookie since 2012

RENTON — If there has been any predictability to the Seattle Seahawks’ draft-weekend madness under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, it was for five years the team’s penchant for trading back, particularly in the early rounds, in order to acquire more picks.

Through five drafts under Schneider and Carroll, the Seahawks moved up only once — the 2013 deal that yielded a second fifth-round pick, allowing Seattle to pick Jesse Williams and Tharold Simon with back-to-back picks. So when they were suddenly on the clock early in the third round, 26 picks ahead of their original draft slot, it was a pretty big surprise.

And last week’s trade, which sent four picks to Washington for the 69th overall pick, wasn’t just surprising; it was also a strong statement about just how badly the Seahawks wanted to land Tyler Lockett. That the Seahawks were so eager to acquire Lockett was not lost on the receiver and return specialist from Kansas State.

“I always wanted to go to a team that believed in me, a team that wanted me and didn’t want to get me just because I was the next-best on their board,” Lockett said after his second day of rookie minicamp practice. “Obviously, they said they have plans for me, but I have to live up to that. No spot is given to you so that’s why I try to come in here with the mentality of fight for whatever you can get, always compete and, at the end of the day, whatever happens is going to happen.”

The Seahawks are usually willing to stay put or even move back in the draft, figuring that the more picks they make, the more chances there are to hit on a player, but with such an obvious need and such a talented player still available early in the third round, Schneider and Carroll went away from their normal tendencies to pick Lockett.

“We wanted a returner in this program so badly,” Carroll said. “John just needed to figure out where we were going to get him, and I am thrilled we got him. He is such a special return guy. He is going to be a terrific receiver, as well, but what I just thought was so unique, and I thought other people would want that, too.”

The Seahawks’ controversial second-round pick, Frank Clark, took attention away from Lockett’s selection on draft weekend, and continues to overshadow the rest of the rookie class, but the more you hear Carroll talk about Lockett, and the more you see him outclass fellow rookies at minicamp, it is clear Lockett can have a big impact on the 2015 Seahawks.

In fact, as silly as it is to make predictions based off of a couple of May practices featuring a large contingent of players who will never make an NFL roster, I’m going to say that Lockett will be Seattle’s most impressive rookie since a loaded 2012 class that included Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin.

It’s true that Seattle’s offense doesn’t exactly lend itself to big receiving numbers, and while plenty of receivers have struggled to adjust to the NFL as rookies, Lockett not only looks like a playmaker at receiver, he will also have every chance to be a difference-maker on special teams.

While Carroll’s “always compete” mantra will determine who wins the kick and punt return jobs, Seattle’s coach made no effort to hide the fact that Lockett is leading that competition.

“We are counting on him to do both,” Carroll said the day Seattle picked Lockett.

For three seasons, the Seahawks never had to worry about their return game because of the presence of Leon Washington, but with Percy Harvin hurt for much of the 2013 season and traded early last season, kick returns have been handled, to varying degrees of success, by numerous players over the past two seasons. And while Golden Tate was very good as a punt returner in 2013, that was a weakness for the Seahawks last season with Earl Thomas briefly holding the job, then Bryan Walters doing it for most of the year, acting more as a designated fair catcher than an actual returner.

“As a return specialist, he really adds that to our team, knowing that he can be our punt returner,” Carroll said. “He can be our kickoff returner. It’s just so obvious, we think that’s an area of our football team we needed improvement at and we could hit it with one guy. He is also a very accomplished receiver, you see his numbers and everything that he has accomplished, but the fact that we can put a guy back there with that kind of confidence and style and tremendous speed and explosiveness, and great history —he’s got all kinds of documentation.

“That’s why were so happy John made the move to get that done. I think it’s a really exciting thing to add to our football team.”

Lockett won’t put up huge numbers like so many rookie receivers did in 2014, but what he can be is a very productive pass catcher who makes the most out of limited chances, and more importantly early in his career, he can be a home-run threat every time Seattle returns a kick or punt.

Seattle’s rookies have only had two practices, without pads or the presence of veteran NFL players, but already it’s safe to say Lockett will turn some heads in 2015 and show why the Seahawks made an uncharacteristic trade to move up in the draft.

“He has fabulous feet, so his feet are under the ball when he catches it, and he’s just so dynamic and so quick once he makes that first move,” special teams coach Brian Schneider said. “So he’s everything we thought he was and probably a little bit more in terms of his tracking and the ability to catch the ball, and then his change of direction when he moves.”

Herald Columnist John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com

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