No kidding around: This receiver soars
As Tyler Lockett set 17 records at Kansas State, including career marks in receiving and return yards, his father, Kevin, sent a series of text messages to an old friend. Kevin had played for four NFL teams over seven seasons, and he twice crossed paths with John Schneider, who would go on to be named the Seahawks' general manager in 2010. The gist of his texts to Schneider: You don't want to miss out on this kid.
As the 2015 draft drew closer, it became evident that Seattle needed a returner, and the best returner in college football was Lockett, a four-time All-America who had so impressed Schneider at the Senior Bowl that the Seahawks dealt four picks to select him in the third round. What they got was a faster, quicker, better version of Kevin Lockett. "He's just like his dad, only a little more gifted," says Warren Moon, a Seahawks analyst who threw passes to Kevin in Kansas City.
In his rookie season Lockett 2.0 gave Seattle more than even his father expected. In Week 1 he returned his first punt for a TD, in Week 17 he set a franchise record with 139 punt-return yards, and he led the NFL with 1,231 combined return yards. But he was more than a specialist. "Once I saw him on the field, it was like, this guy is a receiver," says fellow wideout Doug Baldwin. "Like, he's really good." Baldwin ticks off Lockett's best attributes—body control, peripheral vision, spatial awareness—then says, "He's basically a combination of Percy Harvin and Golden Tate."
As Seattle's offense developed into an elite unit, the 5'10", 182-pound Lockett caught 23 passes for 318 yards and three scores in the final five games. He led all rookie pass catchers with eight total TDs while playing only 61.5% of the Seahawks' snaps—and with a squeaky voice and low-key personality that led Baldwin to describe him as an NFL rarity. "He's like a little kid," Baldwin says. "He has this childlike innocence about him." Yes, Lockett took his pastor to the Pro Bowl, but his aw-shucks demeanor only masks his drive. "He plays possum," says Schneider. "He's as competitive as anyone on our team."
Seattle plans to ramp up Lockett's workload this season—at multiple receiver positions, in motion, out of the backfield. Despite two Super Bowl appearances in three years, the Seahawks have never been this deep on offense under coach Pete Carroll, who took over in 2010. They binged in the draft, taking three linemen (Texas A&M guard-tackle Germain Ifedi in the first round; Boise State guard Rees Odhiambo, third; TCU center Joey Hunt, sixth) and three running backs (Notre Dame's C.J. Prosise, third; Arkansas's Alex Collins, fifth; Clemson's Zac Brooks, seventh). They also nabbed Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett in the third, and he's proved a better pass catcher in camp than they expected.
Meanwhile, Seattle welcomes back once-dominant tight end Jimmy Graham (right patellar tendon), running back Thomas Rawls (fractured left ankle) and receiver Paul Richardson (right hamstring) from injuries that cost them a combined 22 games in 2015. Quarterback Russell Wilson's development as he enters his fifth season should help steady a young offensive line. Moon was struck by how quickly and decisively Wilson threw in camp. Assessment: "He's primed to have an MVP year."
Seattle expects to contend again. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett says camp oozed a "championship vibe." Carroll, who turns 65 in September, says he was "all jacked up."
Lockett being Lockett, the young receiver says, simply, "I can't wait to try my best."
TAKE THIS GUY AWAY AND THE DEFENSE CRUMBLES
Most pundits find it impossible to pinpoint a single most valuable player on the Seahawks' stacked defense—but the name you hear most often is Earl Thomas(left). The seventh-year free safety is easy to overlook because so much of his impact is found in what doesn't happen—the routes he takes away, the coverages he rotates in and out of, the rushing lanes he fills in order to turn a 30-yard run into a less damaging 12-yarder. One of the unique dimensions of Seattle's scheme is that its deepest defender does not always play in straightaway centerfield. Against formations with extra wideouts Thomas cheats aggressively to the strong-receiver side. This puts him in a more direct line of help-coverage positioning—but it also means he has more ground to cover if the ball goes the other way. Many D's can't make that work, but Seattle's can because Thomas's range and awareness are unmatched.
Si'S 2016 Prediction: 12--4
2015 Record: 10--6
SEPT. 11 vs.MIA [PREDICTED WINNER]
SEPT. 18 atLA [PREDICTED WINNER]
SEPT. 25 vs.SF [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 2 atNYJ
OCT. 16 vs.ATL [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 23 atARI [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 30 atNO
NOV. 7 vs.BUF [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 13 atNE
NOV. 20 vs.PHI [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 27 atTB
DEC. 4 vs.CAR [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 11 atGB [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 15 vs.LA [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 24 vs.ARI [PREDICTED WINNER]
JAN. 1 atSF [PREDICTED WINNER]
= PREDICTED WINNER