Preseason standouts often serve as cautionary tales regarding the dangers of buying into hype, which is why it's important to temper your excitement regarding any and all rookie non-first-round picks who have excelled in August, but have yet to play a snap of meaningful football.
Seattle Seahawks rookie wide receiver and return man Tyler Lockett isn't an exception to that rule, but I wouldn't blame you for possessing extreme confidence in the third-round pick after he lit it up as a returner early in the preseason and as a receiver late.
It's been 15 years since a player won Offensive Rookie of the Year despite being drafted beyond the second round. In fact, only two rookies—third-round pick Curtis Martin in 1995 and sixth-round pick Mike Anderson in 2000—have accomplished that feat since 1988, and a rookie wide receiver has never won the award after being drafted outside of the first or second round.
|Wide receivers who have won Offensive Rookie of the Year|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||12||Giants||2014|
|Pro Football Reference|
Lockett, who was drafted 69th, not only has the ability to buck that trend, but he might also be in the ideal place at the ideal time in order to make it happen.
First, that ability. The Kansas State product, who stood out at the scouting combine with top-five scores in the 40-yard dash and both the 20- and 60-yard shuttles, had an electric 103-yard kick-return touchdown and an impressive 18 yards on his only punt return in his preseason debut against the Broncos.
He followed that up with a 67-yard punt-return touchdown on Aug. 29 while also catching three of the four passes thrown his way in Seattle's final two preseason games, including a 63-yard touchdown reception with the starters still in the game on Sept. 3 against the Raiders.
Second, the circumstances.
Sure, 15 offensive skill-position players were drafted ahead of Lockett, but circumstances have already begun to sink the Rookie of the Year cases many of those newbies might have made. For example:
- Top pick Jameis Winston, who is already dealing with an ankle injury, was inconsistent throughout the preseason.
- No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper has struggled with dropped passes and has been working to get "things cleaned up" with unsteady Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, per Bill Williamson of ESPN.
- No. 7 overall pick Kevin White will miss at least the first six games of the season after undergoing offseason surgery to treat a stress fracture in his left shin, per NFL.com.
- No. 10 overall pick Todd Gurley is coming back from knee surgery and is likely to be a rotational player early on for the Rams at running back.
- No. 14 overall pick DeVante Parker played just eight preseason snaps as he was being eased back from a foot surgery.
- No. 15 overall pick Melvin Gordon will be part of a committee backfield.
- No. 26 overall pick Breshad Perriman is out with a knee injury and has yet to earn a significant role in Baltimore's receiving corps.
- No. 29 overall pick Phillip Dorsett has also been limited by injuries and is buried within a strong Colts receiving corps.
Yes, No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota has looked good at quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, but it's not as though Mariota has a ton of support in Tennessee. As a rook, he'll have to lean on guys like Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas and Bishop Sankey, as well as young Taylor Lewan at left tackle. The line doesn't appear steady and he might suffer as a result.
Are Mariota, Winston, Cooper and Eagles first-round wide receiver Nelson Agholor better bets than Lockett? Of course, but all of them face serious questions, including whether and when Agholor can earn starting reps in Philadelphia.
And just like that, you're out of the first round.
There are also second-round picks who will contend—guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Devin Smith, T.J. Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah. But none of those rookies are locks to deliver. The raw Green-Beckham is stuck in the same weak offense as Mariota and has yet to earn a starting role, Smith continues to be hurt, Yeldon has been injured and also lacks support and Abdullah will continue to fight for reps with Joique Bell and Zach Zenner in an offense that isn't known for having a prolific running game.
In Seattle, Lockett is supported by young star quarterback Russell Wilson and the team's new attention-grabbing star tight end Jimmy Graham, as well as arguably the best running back in the league in Marshawn Lynch.
Ordinarily, when offensive rookies join Super Bowl contenders with as many offensive weapons as Seattle has, they don't earn enough reps to gain attention early. But it actually works out well for Lockett that Seattle isn't particularly deep at the wide receiver position.
|Seahawks wide receiver depth chart with career stats|
|1. Doug Baldwin||30||15|
|2. Jermaine Kearse||20||5|
|3. Tyler Lockett||0||0|
|4. Ricardo Lockette||1||3|
|5. Chris Matthews||0||0|
|6. Kasen Williams||0||0|
|7. B.J. Daniels||0||0|
|8. Kevin Smith||0||0|
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are locked in as starters, but there's nobody else with much experience in that receiving corps. With Baldwin spending the majority of his time in the slot, there's little reason to think Lockett can't beat out Ricardo Lockette and Chris Matthews for a large number of reps as an X or Z receiver opposite Kearse.
With Graham and Lynch serving as tremendous decoys, particularly in the red zone, the speedy Lockett could hit several jackpots this season.
Plus, when he's stacked up against other rookies throughout the league, Lockett's return abilities should count for extra points. The man scored twice on 11 kick and punt returns this preseason, averaging a ridiculous 26.3 yards on his four punt returns.
Lockett—who, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, also looked "really impressive" in training camp—has been called "special" by head coach Pete Carroll (per Brady Henderson of ESPN.com). He's not just another third-round pick, and he's not on a regular NFL roster under routine circumstances.
In Seattle, he has a chance to shine immediately. And in a year like this, that might be enough to join the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.