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49ers special teams faces tough challenge in Tyler Lockett, Seahawks kick return unit

Seahawks kick returner Tyler Lockett will look to build on a strong Week 12 performance.

The special teams units will be a big factor in Sunday’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Both teams are ranked in the top half of the league, according to Football Outsiders, and given the issues on offense and defense for both teams, field position will be critical.

This past week, Seahawks wide receiver and kick returner Tyler Lockett was named NFC special teams player of the week. In the Seahawks 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Lockett had 197 yards on five kickoff returns. It was a career high for him, and the highest total since the NFL moved the touchback on kickoffs from the 20 to the 25-yard line.

Even if you remove his long of 57 yards, Lockett still averaged 35 yards per return. On the season, Lockett ranks No. 4 in kick return average. Football Outsiders ranks the Seahawks fifth in their kick return DVOA category. By comparison, the 49ers are tight for eighth in kickoff coverage.

The 49ers special teams has been solid for much of the season, but in terms of coverage, there have not been many opportunities. The 49ers are tied with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers for the fewest opponent kick returns, with seven on the season. The Patriots have faced 37 opposing kick returns. The 49ers have had some issues scoring, but they also are among the league leaders in touchback percentage thanks to Bradley Pinion’s big leg. It will be worth tracking how many opportunities Tyler Lockett gets on Sunday.