Tyler Lockett is infuriating to watch.
No, really, he is. He's driving me crazy to the point of distraction.
Of course, it's not entirely his fault. Part of the problem is something I assume is out of his control; a lack of easily accessible college all-22 film. It's just not there for the finding with my limited resources. Again, I assume this is out of Tyler Lockett's control. I don't think the NCAA asked him what he thought of releasing all-22 film of major college programs (for a fee, of course. Seriously, NCAA, you stand to make even more from this than the NFL. C'mon, be smart) and he was all, "Nah, that would make things too easy on MNchiefsfan."
It seems unlikely.
That said, Lockett presents a unique problem when watching his tape (six games and counting available at Draft Breakdown); it's not readily apparent how he's always open. And Tyler Lockett is ALWAYS open. Like, constantly. Even when defenses keyed on him (which was often) he was open.
With receivers, especially at the college level, speed, quickness, and burst are the easiest things to catch when you're watching film (I mean, besides obvious things like height and stuff). With a guy like, say, Phillip Dorsett, it's easy to see why he's getting open so often; he just runs away from opposing corners who are physically outmatched. He's really, really, really, really fast.
Or sometimes you've got a receiver who is just exceptional at high-pointing the ball and coming down with it regardless of where the defender is. DeVante Parker is a good example of this.
In both cases, you can see really quickly why said player is SO successful at the college level.
And then we have Tyler Lockett.
Look, don't get me wrong, Lockett has plenty of speed. He's not holy-crap-where'd-he-go fast like Dorsett or the now-often-mocked-to-the-Chiefs-yes-I'm-doing-this-hyphen-thing-to-annoy-you Breshad Perriman, but he's definitely not stuck in the mud out there. If someone were to ask for a word to describe his speed it'd be "decent." He's got decent speed.
He also seems to have good, but not elite quickness. Some guys, like De'Anthony Thomas, vanish in a puff of smoke then reappear a few yards away. Again, Lockett looks perfectly solid in this area, but nothing special.
So how in the name of all things good and pure is he constantly, constantly open? Here's where the frustration over a lack of all-22 film comes into play. About a dozen times a game, Lockett would run out of the broadcast film view with what appeared to be no separation whatsoever from the CB. A second would go by, the quarterback would throw down the field... and Lockett would pop back into view free of the CB and make the catch.
This happened over and over and over as I watched the first game (Lockett vs. Baylor, 2014). It was driving me to distraction. I'm not a person who is particularly appreciative of mysteries.
Finally, the broadcast was good enough to show a replay of just such a route (huge H/T to Draft Breakdown, a fantastic site)
The world makes sense again, guys. It's gonna be OK.
I asked Twitter for one word to sum up what Lockett does here that creates such instantaneous separation. One fantastic response...
@RealMNchiefsfan hips— Travis Beets (@Tbeets13) April 3, 2015
And that really is a lot of it. Tyler Lockett flips his hips faster than everyone else. That might be the weirdest sentence I've ever written, but it's truth.
We don't think about things like that when we're describing what makes a player get open. Generally, when you hear about fluid hips you're talking about corners. But the same principles that make fluid hips important to corners apply to wide receivers as well. If you can flip your hips and go backward when you were running forward in the blink of an eye, you've got a built-in advantage over ... well, everyone who can't. Which is most people.
The hips thing (as you can see, I'm quite the scouting term purist, with such crazy lingo as "the hips thing") sums up what separates Lockett from other wide receiver prospects. While he's got solid physical tools, his greatest strength is his superiority in the small areas. Like the hips. Or the number of steps he takes in a cut. Or using a fake to set up a fake to set up a fake (I think they call that routeception)
Doing the small things better than everyone leads to moments like this. If you don't enjoy watching people embarrassed, skip ahead.
The only thing that play lacked was a mic for Lockett to drop as he walked off the field. Sheesh.
Also, notice how much harder the catch (which Lockett made) was due to the placement of the ball. That happened a lot in the games I reviewed. I don't want to upset any K-State fans, but that quarterback's accuracy is ... um ... iffy. Which makes Lockett's production last year all the more impressive.
Really, Lockett should have had even better base stats (you know: catches, yards, TD's, and whatnot) than he did. If it weren't for some pretty shady throws made on times Lockett had worked his way open, he might have shattered some NCAA records (seriously).
For the sake of not slowing down the page too much, we'll switch to links for a bit. Here, Lockett once again fakes a corner out completely to gain separation in the end zone, only to have a very poorly thrown rob him of a touchdown.
Lockett end zone separation
That kind of thing has to be wildly frustrating for a wide receiver.
But returning to Lockett as a receiver, he just does everything the way it's supposed to be done (with one exception we'll talk about shortly). Everyone knows his father was a wide receiver or the Chiefs. You're going to learn a thing or two about how to play the position when your dad did it for a living. Again, it's the little things being done correctly that add up.
Lockett doesn't waste steps in his cuts or his fakes (as you can see in the above GIFs and link provided above).
Lockett keeps his weight on his toes when preparing for the snap. This is a really, really simple thing to do that allows you to get explosion from the line more quickly (as opposed to being on your heels or flat-footed). You'd THINK all receivers do this all the time, but for some reason plenty of receivers don't do it.
Lockett knows how to work the sideline and drag both feet while concentrating on making a catch.
Lockett diving sideline catch
Lockett understands how to make any contact appear to be the fault of the corner. His flopping on some plays (where he got calls, mind you) reminded me of watching Manu Ginobili. Whatever you think of flopping as a moral issue (which, if you do, you probably take sports too seriously), it can't be denied that the ability to draw a flag is absolutely a big deal in today's NFL.
Lockett doesn't deal with physical coverage particularly well once corners get their hands on his body, but he's REALLY good at using slippery moves to prevent corners from making solid contact, which allows him to get into his route. His twists and turns remind of Stevie Johnson (though he's not quite as "twisty," for lack of a better term). Lockett also demonstrates a good grasp of hand position when fighting with a CB who is attempting to press.
When you combine those last two traits, Lockett does far better than someone of his size should against press coverage. It's impressive to watch him quickly get into his route regardless of what the defender is attempting to do.
Lockett also demonstrates decent hands. One thing I'd note is that for as polished as Lockett is in every other aspect of the game, his hand technique isn't quite as good as you'd expect.
Don't get me wrong, Lockett generally attacks the ball and shows solid hands. However, from what I saw he "claps" more than he should rather than bringing his hands together and then to the ball. He also will at times trap the ball into his body rather than using his hands. Make no mistake, his technique is solid and better than many other college WRs I've watched. It's just not nearly as exceptional as the rest of his "this is how you WR" skills.
However, when your biggest "weakness" as a receiver is something you're still above average at, you're doing pretty well. Lockett is a very good receiver. There's just no way around it. And Lockett DOES repeatedly show the ability to concentrate on the ball and bring it in, even when his technique isn't perfect and he's got a defender playing him very physically.
Lockett hand-fighting and bringing in the ball
Lockett high-pointing ball while getting hit
Oh hey, while we're here and not on the subject, let's have a conversation about "We already have Albert Wilson, we don't need another slot WR." Because some people are going to say it.
Just because a guy isn't 6'3" does not mean he's limited to the slot WR position. Antonio Brown is 5'10". Emmanuel Sanders is 5'11". T.Y. Hilton is 5'9". Jeremy Maclin is 6'0".
Every one of those guys lined up wide just as often (or much more) than they did in the slot last year. And every one of them was top 10 in the NFL in yards receiving last year.
If you think a guy is a slot WR based solely on height, please stop. You're wrong. Playing WR is about skill-set. If you can get open on the outside, you can play WR on the outside. Which, by the way, is what Albert Wilson was doing last year for the Chiefs. He largely lined up on the outside. So, no, Andy Reid doesn't view him as strictly a slot guy.
And when you can leave defenders flat-footed like this, you can line up anywhere on the field.
Lockett freezing corner for TD
Another aspect of Lockett that demonstrates his knowledge of the game is how he handles zones. When Lockett is faced with zone coverage, he repeatedly sprints across areas "covered" by a defender and slows down noticeably (or stops and sits) when he's found the open space. He knows where he needs to be in order to get open. He also repeatedly recognized when it was time to break from his route and get back to the quarterback on a broken play (the "street ball" aspect that Seattle's WRs are so good at with Russell Wilson).
As a blocker, Lockett is forgettable. I don't necessarily mean that as an insult, but it's not a compliment either. Lockett puts in the effort the majority of the time and will do what he can. But, like any other WR his size, he's just not an impact at that point. He's also not a guy who is going to consistently break tackles. He just isn't.
However, the negatives are vastly outweighed by the positives with Lockett.
I'm not a Kansas State fan, nor am I much of a college football fan. I'd never watched Lockett before this, and I don't have any sort of rooting interest in the guy. But I walked away extremely impressed after finally getting a chance to view his tape.
Lockett doesn't blow you away with speed and doesn't have the "wow" wingspan like Parker. And some fans have written him off as a guy who won't be more than a bit player in the NFL. And maybe they're right (it's impossible to say for sure how a guy projects at the next level. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you).
But what Lockett IS great at is getting open. He gets open. A lot. There is nothing even remotely as important as this aspect of the game when it comes to being a wide receiver.
Lockett's exceptional bend (both at his hips and ankles) combined with his fantastic route running skills make him very, very difficult to cover for corners, even if they're faster / quicker than he is. That's not a skill that generally goes out of style in the NFL.
Getting open and catching the ball is the job description for an NFL wide receiver, and Lockett is more than capable in both regards. If the Chiefs took him in the 2nd round I wouldn't even bat an eye at this point. In fact, I'd be more than happy with it. I'd love to see a little of this on Sundays.
And he didn't even need to be taller to make that CB look like a fool.