By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – New special teams coordinator Joe Marciano made it known Tuesday he wants some competition for Jeremy Ross, who handled the return duties for the Detroit Lions last year.
Marciano spoke a bit wistfully as he described the ideal kind of player to have at that position.
“There’s very few returners that can do it without [much] blocking,” Marciano said at the Lions town hall meeting as he sat a few seats over from team president Tom Lewand. “Those guys are special, okay? Guys that can make plays with positive yards with very limited blocking, they’re hard to find – unless you get them in the draft, Tom.”
One draft prospect who could fit the bill is Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
As a senior for the Wildcats, Lockett was named a consensus All-American as an all-purpose player and kick returner. In 2014 he returned 21 punts for 402 yards and two touchdowns, and he returned 18 kickoffs for 362 yards. As a receiver, Lockett racked up 1,515 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lockett was also named an All-American his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. As a sophomore, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and he did the same as a freshman.
Lockett broke more than a dozen records at Kansas State, where both his father Kevin and his uncle Aaron also had great college careers.
Aaron said in a phone interview Wednesday that the Lions – whose assistant special teams coach Devin Fitzsimmons was an assistant at Kansas State in 2007 and 2008 – have shown some interest in Tyler.
“I think that he spoke to them at the combine, I want to say, and they were present at the Senior Bowl, and I think they’ve been around,” Aaron said. “I haven’t heard anything from Tyler relative to doing any personal workouts or a visit, but they have shown a little bit of interest. I don’t think anything over-the-top, but they definitely have said something.”
Aaron said Tyler has generated more interest from a number of teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals. Analysts expect Tyler to go in the second or third round of the draft.
Some people have wondered whether Tyler, at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, has enough size to play as well in the NFL as he did in college.
Lions offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, who played with Tyler at Kansas State, has no doubt his former teammate can compete at the next level.
“That does not matter,” Lucas said emphatically in a phone interview Thursday. “Whoever gets this guy is going to have one hell of a draft pick. I feel like he’s going to be the next best receiver. I feel like he’s going to have a great [rookie] year.
“And this is not just because I played with the guy,” Lucas added. “I just know what he can do, and I know how hard he works, and I know that nothing is above him. A challenge is never too big for this guy. The whole size thing won’t matter because I’ve seen him beat plenty of guys out.”
Aaron agrees that Tyler can succeed at his current size, but he said Tyler can and will put on some muscle.
“You have to take into account not where they are today but look at the body type,” Aaron said. “Tyler has a slender waist and bigger thighs and bigger calves, which means he has a nice lower-base body. He has room to grow in his upper body, which is the easiest to grow … I see him easily being 187 to 190 within a year, year and a half, and I think once you get to that 190 style, I think he’s solid enough to be able to go across the middle and withstand some of the hits he’ll take.”
Aaron expects any added muscle to have a major impact.
“As you get toward your max capacity, and when I say that I’m talking about being able to maintain your skills and still put on some size, eight pounds of muscle would be pretty healthy for him, but it would be mind-boggling what it would do to his game,” Aaron said.
Tyler’s speed has gotten him the most attention. He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, which was fifth-fastest among wide receivers. Lucas recalled being in awe on various occasions at Kansas State when he watched Tyler just run away from defenders.
“He doesn’t look fast, but when you put him versus other people, he just pulls away, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that guy’s amazing,'” Lucas said.
Lucas also trumpeted his teammate’s work ethic, recalling him as setting the standard in summer workouts – first to a drill, first to finish a sprint, first in the weight room, and never looking tired.
“Guy isn’t that big, but he has the heart of a lion,” Lucas said.
The Lions have not asked Lucas about Lockett yet, but Lucas said he would give his former teammate nothing but the best possible review.
“He’s a hell of a player, hell of a teammate, just a hell of an individual,” Lucas said. “Guy does it all, man. He can take the top off your defense, he can write you a poem, guy is just very talented, wherever you want to start. Probably one of the hardest-working guys – probably the hardest-working guy I’ve ever been on a team with, probably one of the best receivers I’ve seen in person before, probably one of the fastest receivers I’ve ever seen before.
“Overall just a good character,” Lucas continued. “He’s just one of those guys you need to have on your team. He’s going to motivate you, he’s going to do all the things that he needs to do to make sure he’s getting his work done and stuff like that. I have nothing bad to say about the guy. I would be very excited if we drafted him.”
If the Lions did take Tyler, it might be a while before he gets an opportunity as a receiver, given the team will primarily use Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Aaron said that would be just fine with his nephew.
“He’s totally fine with it,” Aaron said. “At his level, he’s looking for an opportunity to make a contribution to the team, how can I benefit the team. If he goes out there and showcases that he’s special with the ball, that he can take care of the ball and he can help field position, he can change a game, then opportunities will come after that.”