The New England Patriots are usually fairly aggressive when it comes to signing players who went…
Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
Take the case, for instance, of undrafted free agent wide receiver Ricardo Lockette of Fort Valley State.
Generally regarded as one of the most attractive players who went unselected in the NFL lottery nearly three months ago, and likely to be a so-called priority free agent when teams begin to sign players next week, Lockette acknowledged this week that he has "really no idea at all" what confronts him once summer training camp begins. Nonetheless, the speedy wide receiver is ecstatic about the prospect of being able to play football again after several months in free agent limbo.
"Since I haven't been through it before," said Lockette of training camp, "it's hard for me to say what it will be like. I do know, though, that it will be hard. And I know that, without any of the other (offseason) stuff, I'm going to have to learn everything a lot faster than I normally might."
To Lockette's advantage, faster -- and sometimes fastest -- is the manner in which he is most accustomed to operating.
A former Division II 200-meter national champion, and one of the nation's premier prep sprinters in high school, Lockette was clocked at 4.37 at the combine workouts. That tied for the fastest 40-yard time of any of the wide receiver prospects and was the fourth-best time of any of the players who auditioned in Indianapolis. It likely is his blistering speed that provides Lockette, who played only two college seasons and is considered by scouts to be very raw as a receiver and route-runner, a chance to stick with an NFL team.
Former NFL wide receiver Terance Mathis -- one of the league's most precise pattern practitioners, particularly during his Pro Bowl tenure with Atlanta, and a man who worked with Lockette during the lockout -- assessed of his student: "You can teach a guy a lot of things, but that kind of speed isn't one of them. It's definitely going to help his odds."
WR Ricardo Lockette
The odds of earning a roster spot, of course, aren't particularly good for any player not chosen in the draft in any year.
This season, with the absence of minicamps and OTAs, and the opportunities for exposure that those workouts provide, the odds for the undrafted pool are longer than ever. Over the last five seasons, an average of just under 2.0 college free agents per team have won regular-season roster spots. Even with roster limits expected to be expanded to 90 players for camp (up from 80), the free agent numbers could be impacted.
But Lockette, rated as the 23rd wide receiver prospect by NFLDraftScout prior to the lottery and projected as a sixth-round pick, certainly has size (measured at a surprisingly solid 6-feet-2 1/8, 211 pounds at the combine), potential, and work ethic. Teams became more familiar with his skills at two post-season all-star games, and he was one of only two players from historically black colleges and universities invited to the combine.
Because of the truncated exposure to the NFL game, conventional wisdom is that all rookies will have a difficult time in camps. But Lockette is confident that he can gain the attention of coaches.
"I think I've shown NFL people that I'm not just a track guy trying to play football," Lockette said. "The NFL is just something I've always dreamed about. To me, I'm really a football player who just happens to be really fast. I think that will help to set me apart."
His college career stats aren't overwhelming (42 receptions, 539 yards, four touchdowns). Lockette also has a bit of an itinerant past, having originally signed with Auburn, where he failed to qualify, spent some time at Wallace State Community College, and flirted at one point with transferring to Bethel College. He is overaged by NFL standards (25), and following a 2009 track meet tested positive for high levels of Testosterone, which he attributes to dubious labeling.
So there are red flags.
But the man can run, there is no debate about that. Drop the green flag to start the race, and the chances are good Lockette will be first across the "Finish" line.
And as one scout for an NFC franchise noted, teams are typically looking for one redeeming characteristic that might provide a free agent a chance, and Lockette possesses the most eye-opening attribute. Said the scout this week: "Let's face it, you're not going to get the complete package (in a free agent), right? But you want a guy who has something that draws attention and gives him a chance. And speed is the most obvious thing that makes you look at a guy at (Lockette's) position. When he runs, heads are going to turn."
According to several agents, some team officials began making contact this week, seeking phone numbers for clients, conducting due diligence for what figures to be a pretty frenetic free agent signing period. It's not certain if Lockette's representative, veteran agent Zeke Sandhu, received such a call. But his phone will be fairly busy as soon as the moratorium on signing undrafted players is officially lifted.
Lockette has spent the last few limbo months working out at home in Albany, Ga., with Mathis in Atlanta, and in Arizona as well. At the start of the lockout, admittedly, he did not read much about the work stoppage, assuming Sandhu would keep him posted on any significant progress. In recent weeks, though, with the impasse about to be resolved, Lockette has paid more attention and stepped up his workouts. "If anything," he said, "it's made me more determined. It's a pretty big chip right now (on my shoulder). The pedal is on the metal; I'm in football mode."
Regarded as a project-type wide receiver, Lockette could be a viable candidate as a kickoff return specialist, even as a rookie. Last season, he averaged 24.0 yards on kickoff runbacks, and Lockette certainly has the size to hit the seam hard and the speed to run a long way.
Of the top 10 players in kickoff return average in the league last season, among those with 30 or more runbacks, three entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.
Lockette is confident he can join that fraternity.
"The next time we talk," he said, "will be when you call me after I've had my first return for a touchdown."
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.