Tyler Lockett Could Be an Every-Week Starter in Fantasy Football
It turns out he was right, but for an even more unfortunate reason: Baldwin suffered a Grade 2 MCL tear in the Seattle Seahawks' season opener against the Denver Broncos and now figures to miss a few weeks depending on the severity of the injury. It’s also tough news for those of us who drafted him in the early rounds of our fantasy drafts this year.
Someone within the Seahawks' receiving corps has to step up and fill the void left by Baldwin’s injury. The veteran has averaged 7.17 targets per game over the last three seasons as Russell Wilson’s lead target all the while finishing as the WR10, WR8 and WR13, respectively, in PPR leagues over that same stretch. The offseason departures of Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham already left the Seahawks with the sixth-most vacated air yards from a year ago, so there’s a huge opportunity for someone to emerge from your waiver wire and break out as an every-week starter.
Tyler Lockett is that guy.
Why Not Brandon Marshall?
Before we get into why Tyler Lockett is the player to target in this offense, we do need to address Brandon Marshall. Marshall played well on Sunday, drawing 6 targets and reeling in 3 of them for 46 yards and a touchdown. He also nearly had another touchdown but was flagged for offensive pass interference on the play.
He looked like the Marshall of old -- the same Marshall with a whopping eight 1,000+ yard seasons under his belt. More importantly, he did not look like the olddd Marshall of 2017.
So why shouldn’t Marshall be the biggest beneficiary from Baldwin’s injury? It boils down to opportunity.
Marshall should see an increased role with Baldwin’s injury, and any opportunity with a quarterback like Wilson is a valuable one. But what Marshall’s box score hides is that he only played 65% of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps. That was only four more snaps than perennial non-factor Jaron Brown. It’s possible that in his age 34 season, Marshall can’t stay fresh for a full complement of snaps.
As long as other receivers are playing more snaps, we should expect the targets to swing more toward those players and away from part-time players. Six targets is a good number to see for Marshall’s first game with the Seahawks, but we may not be able to rely on that target volume going forward.
Now, as mentioned above, Marshall will see increased opportunities with Wilson, and that means you should add him if he’s on your waiver wire and you need a wide receiver. We’ve seen for years that Wilson is capable of producing some huge fantasy numbers for more than one receiving option. Plus, if anyone is physically built to replace Jimmy Graham's red zone role from last year, it’s the 6’5”, 232-pound Marshall.
As noted in JJ Zachariason's first edition of The Report, only Ben Roethlisberger attempted more passes of 15-plus yards a year ago than Wilson (125 to Wilson’s 124), meaning that even a few targets from Wilson can get the job done from a fantasy perspective. Marshall figures to become the team’s WR2 in the upcoming weeks without Baldwin, which is a role from which we can expect splash plays and high touchdown rates, but with him likely to play limited snaps, the volume and upside are both capped.
Tyler Lockett Breakout Season
Whereas Marshall played only 65% of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps, Lockett played 98% of them -- and fittingly so. Seattle paid Tyler Lockett like a WR1 this offseason and are playing him like one to start the year. And there's no reason to believe that will change with Baldwin out.
Through the first three years of his career, Lockett averaged offensive snap percentages of 61.45%, 52.69%, and 64.76%, respectively. He took a huge leap up from those rates to the 98% of offensive snaps he played on Sunday. It's an indication that the team considers him to be their top receiving weapon.
Regardless, one thing that could help explain Lockett’s lower offensive snap percentages over the first three years of his career is his usage on special teams. He’s averaged special teams snap percentages of 34.16%, 27.79% and 35.01%, respectively, through his first three seasons. He played 36.36% of them in Week 1.
Dating back to 1980, Lockett’s 5,274 all-purpose yards rank sixth-best of all wide receivers through their first three NFL seasons. He’s been one of the most productive returners in the league, which has kept his value high from a real-football perspective.
However, the Seahawks may have been preparing to transition Lockett away from the return game when they drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. The rookie running back totaled seven kickoff returns for touchdowns in his final three seasons at San Diego State. But Penny shockingly played zero special teams snaps on Sunday while Lockett returned both kickoffs and all three punts. It's a low-probability situation, but if Lockett scores a touchdown on special teams you'll still get those fantasy points on most fantasy platforms.
Special teams nerdiness aside, Lockett stood out from an efficiency standpoint this weekend. While he drew two fewer targets than Marshall, Lockett was a more efficient receiver according to all of numberFire’s proprietary metrics.
|Player||Rec NEP||Rec NEP/Target||Target Success Rate|
For full definitions of these metrics, take a look at our terms glossary, but to briefly explain, targets to Lockett were successful more often and returned more production across the board.
We’ve only just finished Week 1 and we are working with incredibly small sample sizes, so we have to look at any of our takeaways with a grain of salt. However, Lockett’s Target Success Rate -- or the percentage of targets that added positive Net Expected Points (NEP) to the Seahawks’ total -- is currently tied for 11th-highest in the league among receivers with 3 or more targets. His 1.75 Reception NEP per target ranks sixth in the league in that same cohort.
Baldwin filled an important role in the offense as the team’s primary slot receiver. Per Pro Football Focus' Scott Barrett, Lockett ran 15 of his 21 routes in the slot following Baldwin’s injury. The team is showing us that they are expecting Lockett to fill Baldwin’s shoes while he recovers, and as Barrett points out, right in time to face a Bears defense that just got burned by Packers slot man Randall Cobb on Sunday night.
Lockett’s slot percentage on Sunday may have even been to his detriment in that outing, as it meant he would have to line up opposite Chris Harris, whom PFF considers the best slot corner in the league. The matchup alone could explain why Marshall received more targets than Lockett. But going forward, the slot should be a nice spot for Lockett to get work, and valuable work at that.
Baldwin’s injury has opened up an extremely valuable role for fantasy purposes: Russell Wilson’s go-to guy. Marshall should see a bump in production and should be picked up in any leagues where he is available, but Lockett’s dominant share of the team’s offensive snaps -- and his assimilation of Baldwin’s role in the slot -- have positioned him for a fantasy breakout.
We're only one week in, but it’s #TylerLockettszn in Seattle.