Tyler Lockett isn’t the look-at-me type.
The Seattle Seahawks receiver, at 5-foot-10, is small in stature for an NFL football player. He’s isn’t particularly loud or brash, which makes him something of anomaly for what’s become the league’s diva position. In the sensory circus that is the NFL, he’s a player who easily melts into the sideshow as the ringmaster directs the crowd’s gaze elsewhere.
Indeed, that was somewhat the case again during the Seahawks’ 38-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Despite Lockett catching three touchdown passes, it was his running mate DK Metcalf who grabbed the headlines with his redemption story, going from premature-celebration goat to game-winning touchdown hero.
But for all of Metcalf’s attention-grabbing exploits, it’s Lockett who remains Seattle’s most important receiver.
It’s easy to get the hype around Metcalf. He’s a physical freak at a pectoral-popping 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, which is augmented by blistering 4.3 speed in the 40. His physical gifts allow him to make the impossible seem routine. Just 19 games into his NFL career he’s already looking like a steal as a second-round draft pick.
But Sunday’s game reinforced that while Lockett’s contributions may be less flashy, they’re just as important if not more so.
Lockett had a big game Sunday, catching nine passes for 100 yards to go along with the three TDs. For the season he has 24 catches for 259 yards, putting him on pace to blow past his career highs of 82 catches and 1,057 yards that he amassed last season.
But there are numbers beyond the standard box score that further illustrate Lockett’s value to quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. The first is catch percentage. Lockett has been targeted 29 times this season and caught the ball 24 of those times, good for an astounding 82.8 completion percentage. Over the past three seasons that number is 78.0, and Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Lockett during that span is a ridiculous 145.2. Oh, and Lockett has just two drops over those three seasons.
The second number is separation. A big part of a receiver’s effectiveness is in his ability to get open. Well, is anyone doing a better job of giving his quarterback an open target than Lockett? According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lockett had 5.7 yards of separation from the nearest defender when he caught his 43-yard touchdown pass Sunday, which is the most in the league on any completion that traveled 40-plus yards in the air over the past two seasons. On his 10 first-half targets against Dallas, Lockett averaged 5.0 yards of separation. Not only is he overlooked by the public, it seems he gets forgotten by defensive backs, too.
Russell Wilson's pass to DK Metcalf traveled 62.9 yards in the air, the longest completion by air distance since 2018.#Cowboys rookie CB Trevon Diggs (21.01 MPH) was able to close-in and force a fumble before Metcalf got into the end zone.#DALvsSEA pic.twitter.com/zy5yf1Jagx
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 27, 2020
“I think the best part about me is I’m kind of small so I can try to wiggle my way through everybody,” Lockett quipped following Sunday’s game.
These are reasons why Wilson targets Lockett in crunch situations. Facing more than 10 yards to gain on first or second down? Get the ball to Lockett knowing he’ll gain the bulk of the yardage back and make ensuing downs and distances more manageable. Facing third and long? Aim toward Lockett knowing that even if the ball isn’t completed, there’s a chance at drawing a penalty on the secondary (both those scenarios happened multiple times the past two weeks).
It’s telling that in their postgame press availabilities, both Wilson and Seattle coach Pete Carroll mentioned Lockett before Metcalf.
“The receivers came through,” Carroll said during his opening statement. “Tyler Lockett had just a career game today, catching touchdown passes everywhere.”
“We’ve had that great amazing connection for a long time,” Wilson said about Lockett. “He’s made so many special plays and showed up in so many different ways. He got behind the defense on the first (touchdown) and made two great ones down the road. He’s everything you’d want in a receiver.”
Lockett, for his part, did his usual thing of thanking God for his accomplishments, then saving his highest praises for his teammates, including Metcalf.
“I was really happy that (Metcalf) was able to score that last touchdown and be able to give us that game winner,” Lockett said. “I think it allows a lot of people to kind of let (the premature celebration that turned a touchdown into a fumble) slide, let it go, we’ll talk about it, that’s a learning experience for each and every person as a receiver.
“I’m really happy he made that touchdown that allowed us to win the game, and I’m just happy we found a way, honestly. That was a tough game.”
And when games get tough, it’s a blessing for the Seahawks to have a player like Lockett to turn to, even if he isn’t always noticed.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.