This week, the Seattle Seahawks are on a BYE, giving them a well-deserved break on their 17-week-long journey toward the NFL playoffs. While the Hawks used this time to heal bodies, refresh minds, and prepare for their upcoming game against the Philadelphia Eagles, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I hoped to see for the rest of the season.
Given the opportunity, what changes would I make to the Seahawks?
I’m sure that most 12s around the Pacific Northwest would have a recommendation or two for the Hawks, and I’m no different. As I thought about it, I kept returning to one idea to improve the team more than any other: Tyler Lockett needs to stop returning kickoffs and punts.
Let me be the first to say I love Tyler Lockett as a Seahawk. He’s beyond talented, often demonstrating his focus-under-pressure ability each week with one extraordinary and often-contested catch after another. It’s Lockett’s special connection with Russell Wilson—and their shared ability to extract success from broken-play scramble situations—that truly explains his (and their) value to the team.
In the 10 games he’s played this year, he’s seen 76 targets, 62 receptions, 793 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Those stats are good enough to tie Lockett for 5th in receptions and 7th in receiving touchdowns across the NFL. And the efficiency numbers between Wilson and Lockett has been the stuff of legends over the last few years, setting career-best numbers for both when working together.
Put another way, Lockett makes Wilson better, and vice versa.
However, Lockett also fulfills a key role on special teams as the Seahawks kickoff and punt returner. And for me, that’s a problem. Now, he’s fast, has a great ball security track record, and makes smart on-field decisions, so as far as returners go, he checks all the boxes. But the risks far outweigh the rewards.
Last week, Lockett suffered a lower-leg contusion with severe swelling in the 4th quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, ending his day before overtime ever began. I don’t get nervous with Wilson behind center, but when the broadcast showed Lockett watching from the bench, my stomach dropped. The Seahawks have other weapons to utilize (which they did on MNF to spectacular effect), but Lockett has been Wilson’s primary security blanket, and seeing him on the sidelines hit me in the face like a cold bucket of water.
What would the high-powered Seahawks offense look like without Lockett for an extended period?
Could they overcome a few games without him? Probably.
What about the rest of the season and the playoffs? Probably not.
Even with recent wide receiver Josh Gordon joining the available pass-catchers for Wilson to throw to, losing Lockett would be a huge blow for the Hawks trying to move the ball through the air. If the Seahawks offence was our solar system, Wilson is obviously the bright, dazzling sun at the center, but that makes Lockett the small, quick, and always-close-by Mercury.
While his upside in the special teams’ phase of the game is appreciated—ball security most of all—the risk is too high and the rewards too low to keep using him in that role.
Now, in my opinion, there are three ideal candidates to take over the job from Lockett, with David Moore, Jaron Brown, or Malik Turner (wide receivers) all making the most sense. They all possess a similar quickness and ability to work in space, and given the Hawks tendency to call a fair catch or accept a touchback (and start on the 25-yard line), as long as one of these guys can catch a kick and hold on to it, there isn’t much difference.
Additionally, if one of these three receivers were to suffer a significant injury during a return, the offense could more easily endure the hardship of being a man down if it wasn’t their top passing target. That’s just math.
Now, should the Seahawks find themselves in a critical situation where the reward for an elite returner outweighs the potential risk, in the playoffs for example, then I’m all for using Lockett gain an advantage. That just makes sense. But as our go-to returner in regular season games during the most injury-stricken phase of the game, we’re risking too much of our season on Lockett avoiding bad luck.
Get him out of there and find someone else, even if they only kneel or fair catch it and never attempt an actual return. Stop tempting fate. Start playing for the playoffs.