Could Amadi surpass Lockett as the Seahawks’ returner in 2020?
One member of the Seahawks’ 2019 draft class who has high expectations heading into the 2020 season is defensive back Ugo Amadi, who was a special teams ace his rookie season before seeing some time at nickel corner late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
A key storyline from 2019 was how the Seahawks played base defense with three linebackers and four defensive backs roughly 70% of the time. The team struggled to stop both the run and the pass, and many fans and analysts want to see the Seahawks implement more nickel packages with an extra defensive back in 2020.
Amadi, a fourth-round pick in 2019, had to wait to see time at nickel, as players like Jamar Taylor and Akeem King saw time there ahead of him, but he finally got snaps there late in the season and the expectation is he will be the team’s nickel corner next season and that the Seahawks will utilize more nickel packages now that Amadi has more experience under his belt.
But there’s another are of Amadi’s game that could see him become an impact player for the Seahawks in 2020, and that’s returning kicks and punts instead of receiver Tyler Lockett, the team’s No. 1 receiver who has made the Pro Bowl and named an All Pro due to his return prowess. Former NFL receiver Michael Bumpus told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore on Wednesday that everyone seems to think Amadi will start at nickel corner, but he wants to see him get the ball in his hands on a regular basis.
“I also think they’re going to use him more in the return game, which I was disappointed I didn’t see more of that last year,” he said. “They had Tyler Lockett back there which made me nervous every time he’s fielding any type of kick like ‘look, this is your best receiver. Get him off that team.’ And initially when they drafted Ugo Amadi I thought that was where he was going to make his initial impact. Coming into this year, we know he’s going to get an opportunity at that nickel spot and I think he’s going to get an opportunity returning kicks. That’s where I feel he’s most special, at least to start.”
While at Oregon, Amadi returned three turnovers for touchdowns between his junior and senior seasons, and he returned 14 punts his senior year, returning one for a touchdown and averaging 15.9 yards per return. He didn’t return any kicks while playing for the Ducks.
On Thursday, Bob, Dave and Moore revisited that conversation and discussed whether Amadi should be the guy to take over those duties from Lockett, who had over 1,000 receiving yards last season.
“I don’t know what to make of him as a defensive back only because we just didn’t get a chance to really see him do much last year but the returning kicks, I would love to see him get that opportunity for two reasons,” Bob Stelton said. “To take some of the wear and tear off Lockett and the other part is frankly, Lockett wasn’t that effective in returning kicks.”
In 2019, Lockett had 66 punt return yards and averaged just 5.1 yards per punt return ‐ the lowest marks of his five-year career. Returning kicks, Lockett had 279 yards and averaged 19.9 yards per return – also the lowest marks of his career. It is worth noting, however, that Lockett injured his shin in Week 10 and didn’t return kicks or punts in Weeks 11-15.
“I don’t know if it was that was a result of the scheme, the guys in front of him just weren’t opening up the holes that were there previously or he’s lost a step or whatever, he just didn’t seem nearly as effective as a returner as he had been in years previous,” Stelton said.
Dave Wyman, a former NFL linebacker, said he thinks the notion that there’s more risk of injury for guys returning kicks or punts may be overblown because anyone can get hurt on any play, but noted that with Lockett, the more time he’s on the field, the more likely it is that an injury could happen.
Wyman went on to joke that Amadi is “the exact opposite” of how he was when he had the ball in his hands during his NFL career, referring to himself as “a stiff.” Amadi showcased that in Week 15, when it looked like he returned an interception for a touchdown, but it was ruled an incomplete pass because he didn’t have full possession when the ball was knocked out of his hands by Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Amadi had the ball, started to run, McCaffrey poked it away and Amadi picked it up off the bounce and ran it back for a score. Upon review, it was ruled incomplete.
“It’s like a ball of lightning gets in his hands and he just plays really fast,” Wyman said. “… And it wasn’t just at Oregon (with) punt returns, it was interception returns, so I’m with (Bumpus) on that. I want to see him back there returning punts and I guess we’ll see.”
Jim Moore, referring to Lockett, said it isn’t worth the risk to leave him back there returning kicks and punts.
“If he’s going to be like (the NFL’s all-time kick and punt returner) Devin Hester and having some huge returns, then that’s one thing, go ahead and risk injury,” he said. “But the No. 1 receiver out there returning kicks and punts? Go ahead and give it to somebody else. If it’s not Amadi, then someone else.”
Listen to the full first hour of Thursday’s Bob, Dave and Moore at this link or in the player below.