“I don’t think there is any WR in the league with (his) combination of speed and quickness. He is a highlight reel waiting to happen… (He) can do it all. … His skill set is rare and he has a work ethic to match it. A selfless teammate with the gift of innocence.”
Doug Baldwin gushed that description this month on his Instagram account. It reads as if the Seahawks’ $46 million wide receiver is wowing about the second coming of Jerry Rice.
Baldwin was in fact glowing about a third-round draft choice knocked for supposedly being too small — but has already become a big deal in the NFL.
Because of his speed, his professionalism and his poise, Tyler Lockett is on the brink of superstardom entering the Seahawks’ training camp, which begins Saturday in Renton.
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But before the 5-foot-10 Lockett — a Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie in 2015 — proved his critics wrong, before he played like a veteran and spoke like a sage, the 23-year old had to overcome his biggest doubter.
“For me, there are a lot of people who … forget about their ability they have and just go out there and it’s like they second-guess everything,” Lockett said last month following the Seahawks’ final offseason practice.
“It’s like they are nervous about being able to catch the ball, being able to catch punts, or what have you. You come to find out that a lot of those things you fear never happen. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to overcome fear. That’s one of the biggest things we have to overcome in life. But imagine what your life would look like when you finally overcame fear.
“If fear can’t stop you,” Lockett said, chuckling, “then I don’t know what can.”
No wonder his college coach, Kansas State’s legendary Bill Snyder, said before Tyler’s last season at K-State in 2014 Lockett is “a self-made man.”
That was while Lockett was breaking school records set by his father, Kevin. His uncle Aaron also played receiver there.
Kevin Lockett, now 41, played seven NFL seasons for the Chiefs, Redskins, Jaguars and Jets. Aaron Lockett, 37, was in NFL camps and also played in the Canadian league.
His family knows Tyler for having Kevin’s deep football intellect and understanding of nuances coupled with Aaron’s athletic ability.
It’s that combination — coupled with Tyler conquering his own fears — that propelled him to set 17 Kansas State career records in receiving and returns. He broke his dad’s K-State marks for career receptions and touchdown catches. He was the Wildcats’ first four-year All-American. He was also a national finalist for the Campbell Trophy, known as college football’s academic Heisman.
The Seahawks were so enamored they traded four draft choices to Washington in May 2015 so they could get one back, moving up 26 spots in the third round to pick Lockett.
It’s the only time in general manager John Schneider’s six years leading the Seahawks he has traded four picks for anything.
Lockett was Seattle’s kick and punt returner from his first NFL practice through making the Pro Bowl as a special-teams star last season. He scored two touchdowns in his first three NFL games on returns. He set a franchise record with 139 yards on punt returns in the final regular-season game at Arizona on Jan. 3.
Yet it was what Lockett did as a receiver that has the Seahawks considering using him all over the offense — outside, inside, in motion, perhaps even out of the backfield — in 2016.
Lockett’s family football heritage created a far more polished, professional route runner than the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson thought they were getting last preseason. Wilson spent much of 2015 trying to connect with Lockett’s deep speed to give Seattle’s offense the downfield streak it’s lacked while even-faster Paul Richardson has been injured the last two years. Lockett ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL’s pre-draft combine and reportedly once ran it in 4.21 seconds.
“I’m at my best when I don’t allow the defender to touch me,” Lockett says.
Wilson trying to connect his throws with that speed remains a work in progress. Last month in the Seahawks’ minicamp Lockett raced past three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman for a long catch from Wilson down the sideline. It was a sign of how much more committed Seattle may become to that connection this season — if the pass protection from its in-flux offensive line allows, of course.
“With Russell, we’ve been trying to work on ‘go’ balls ever since last year,” Lockett said. “We are going to get it.
“We tried it a lot during OTAs. We are going to work on it even more. The biggest thing is, I’ve been going against Richard in about 95 percent of (practices). He’s just made me a better player.”
Beating Sherman on routes will do wonders for overcoming fear. So will producing online videos meant to inspire young players.
One of the many performance-mindset videos Lockett has narrated and posted on his Twitter account since entering the NFL last year was on overcoming fear.
“I’d be lying if I told you that I was never afraid, that I was never scared,” Lockett says in last month’s video. “I mean, there were times I was literally so nervous going into a game where I would just sit there and ask God like, ‘God, what kind of game is this going to be? Is this going to be a good game? Is this going to be a bad game?’
“Sometimes I would literally psyche myself out and start to question all of my abilities. Like, ‘Man, if he throws me the ball am I going to be able to catch it? What if I drop it? What if I fumble? What if I drop these punts? What if I am the reason we go out here and lose this game?’
“And it was all because I was scared of the unknown.”
Lockett grew up in a family of faith in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On his many family outings on Sundays, he became intrigued to share wisdom through video.
“I used to see people when I was going to church, people used to be like, ‘Here’s the announcements,’ and they used to play it on a little projector,” he said. “So I always wanted to do things like that, movie trailers.
“It’s for me, if I ever get to that point in time again. And it’s for anybody else who has those (doubting) thoughts.
“It’s all about trying to find the best you.”
Lockett has indeed found that.
The Seahawks seem poised to find an even better Lockett in 2016.
“So it’s time for me to let this fear go,” he says to end last month’s video.
“Because where I am trying to go, fear can’t come.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle