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Tyler Lockett has a chance to be the steal of the draft

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

5'9 5/8", 181 pounds, 8 3/8" hands. No, that's not me. That's Tyler Lockett, fresh off of a 106 catch, 1515 yard, 11 touchdown season. San Diego is in dire need of a playmaker and you'd be hard pressed to find a more productive, efficient one than Lockett. Let's dig into some myths about Lockett and see how his game translates to the NFL.

Slot Receiver Myth

Given Lockett's stature, you're likely to see "He's a slot WR" attached with everything you read about him. That's selling him short, to put it mildly, but it's also not using Lockett to his strengths. Could he get you 5 to 6 yards on a bubble screen from the slot? Sure. He can also get you 60 yards from the perimeter as well. I believe Lockett's best trait is his route running. I also believe that he is best at the top of his route, where he sells another route with good footwork or a head fake, only to break back to his original route. Here's an example of against Texas Tech on a post route, where he fakes going to the corner and breaks to the post.

There are several examples of Lockett excelling with different moves to create separation at the top of his route. Because most of these are executed on vertical stems, there's no evidence I've seen that says "he has to play inside." That's just looking at a player's dimensions and projecting he can't do something because of his height. That's irresponsible scouting. Here's another example of Lockett at the top of his route.

Lockett routinely made corners look silly. Lockett drew 6 penalties against him, and had a few others that went uncalled. If he gets the right opportunity, this trend will continue at the next level because of his precise route running.

Making Plays through contact

While the better receivers in the NFL all win in different ways, most of them share the same traits. One of those traits is winning contested catches. On 3rd and long when your team needs you to make a play, you're likely going to have to finish a play through contact. Whether it's holding onto a comeback after you take a hit from the corner or it's sitting down over the middle of a zone and taking a hit from a linebacker. In 6 games Lockett had 25 opportunities to make contested grabs, he hauled in 16 of those. That's high enough to convince me that he can make plays through contact and stay on the perimeter.

Another trait that I didn't expect to see was Lockett's ability to high point passes.

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Game in and game out, Lockett makes the plays of a guy you would think is 6'2, not 5'9. It's because Lockett understands body positioning. He not only times his jumps well, but he knows how to shield the defender off as well. Kansas State used Lockett on several back-shoulder fades in the games I watched, and Lockett was successful more often than not. On sideline routes, he does a good job of giving the quarterback enough room to operate by not crowding the sideline. Then, after boxing the defender out, will use his frame to make the catch. Here's an example against UCLA.

There are plenty of traits to Lockett's game that I see continuing at the next level. This next trait, however, might be an issue as well.

Case of the Drops

In these 6 games, I saw 6 drops and 20 body catches. Twenty. These are routine curl routes and passes are going through his hands. The drop below hurts, not just because it's a touchdown, but because it's not a "focus drop."

Notice as Lockett is going to catch the pass, eyes and his hands are both in sync, both rising at the same time. Did he drop it because his hands are too small? I don't know if that's the case. I do know that he had some very inexcusable drops and his catching technique is a bit worrisome. Letting the ball into your body, especially when working back to the quarterback, gives the defender a better chance to break up the pass. Lockett's already at a disadvantage given his size, so he can't afford to allow little things like this to happen.

Steal of the Draft?

Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10 8.5 – 9.0
Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round 8.0 – 8.4
Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round 7.8 – 7.9
Reliable Starter, 2nd Round 7.5 – 7.7
Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round 7.0 – 7.4
Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round 6.5 – 6.9
Productive Backup, 5th Round 6.0 – 6.4
Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round 5.5 – 5.9
Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round 5.0 – 5.4
Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round 4.5 – 4.9
Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations 4.0 – 4.4
Non-Draftable 4

Trait Weight Grade
Route Running 4 3.8
Hands 3 2.1
Ball Skills 3 2.7
Separation Skills 2.5 2.3
Speed 2.5 2.3
YAC Ability 2 1.8
Athleticism 2 1.8
Versatility 2 2
Awareness 2 1.6
Blocking 2 1.7

For me, Lockett grades out to a 7.96. Basically the highest grade you can get without being a 1st rounder. Lockett is a guy that I would stand on the table for in the draft room going to battle for to get him on my team. Are his hands worrisome? No question. The transferable traits in Lockett's game such as route running, creating separation, versatility, and big play ability lead me to believe that he'll be a very good starter in the NFL. Will he go in the top 40 picks? Probably not, because the NFL is run by dinosaurs and despite everything he does well, evaluators will look at his frame and knock him. Lockett is a player I'd be willing to gamble on if I needed to add a playmaker on offense. He could very well end up being this year's steal of the draft.

How he fits as a Charger

I haven't even mentioned Lockett's big play ability on offense and on special teams. San Diego was one of the worst kick/punt return units in the league this year. Lockett had 6 career touchdowns off of returns. As a punt returner this year, he had 21 returns for 402 yards. That's 19.1 yards per return, good for 2nd best in the country. For his special teams value alone, Lockett would be worth a mid to late round pick. Factor in that he's arguably the best route runner in college football and that's when you start to think about, deep breath, trading up for him if he's there for you in the 3rd round.

Offensively Lockett gives you a player that can stretch the field, but also win on the short and intermediate levels of the field. You can mix and match him and Keenan Allen in the slot though I think Allen would be more productive there and a better fit for the offense. The Chargers offense is in dire need of a playmaker who can give you consistent production opposite Allen. That playmaker is Tyler Lockett. Go get him, Tom.