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Scouting Report: Laquon Treadwell and Enforcing Razor-Thin Margins

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Laquon Treadwell's 40-yard dash time has caused a lot of debate about the value of combine workouts. But unfortunately, this has blinded us to who Treadwell is as a player and what he can provide. Knowing more than simply "good route-runner" is critical to understanding what he can provide an NFL offense.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings are in a position to draft the preseason's top wide receiver, in big part because of an offseason workout. With a well-known need at wide receiver and suddenly faced with a wealth of options at pick 23—the relative stock improvement of Josh Doctson (whose workouts are reason enough for me to move him from my high second-round grade firmly into the first round) and perceptual drop for Treadwell means the Vikings truly can determine which of those four (or four plus Will Fuller) best fit who they are without worrying about "overpaying" a player or praying for an uncharacteristic drop.

While I've looked at the other three receivers, we may as well look at Treadwell and what he can offer.

Other Scouting Reports

#Metrics

We might as start with the most well-discussed aspect of Treadwell's evaluation, which is his timed speed and his overall workout. Is it possible for a receiver to run slow in the offseason and be successful in the NFL? Of course, but are the odds in your favor? No.

There are a lot of aspects of Treadwell's workout that are worrisome, not just his timed speed. Successful receivers tend to be explosive and show good workouts in the jump tests—vertical and broad. Treadwell had issues in every aspect of his workout, not just his 40-yard dash, and they all cumulatively point to a red flag. But for demonstration's sake, let's look at the history of receivers in the extremes.

You may be of the opinion that the difference between a 4.49 and a 4.45 is largely irrelevant, but showing up as one of the slowest players at your position is a whole different category of problem. There are 59 receivers in my database who ran a 4.60 or slower in either their pro day or combine (as always, I use the fastest available scores for players because that has shown the most predictive power) and this category certainly includes Treadwell, who ran 4.63- and 4.65-second 40-yard dashes at his pro day.

At the other extreme, 62 receivers have run a 4.37 40-yard dash or faster and because of the comparable sample size serves as an excellent sample to compare against. Take a look at the table of average yards per season by speed category:

Yards Faster than 4.37 Slower than 4.60
1000+ 3 1
900-999 2 0
800-899 2 0
700-799 0 0
600-699 2 0
500-599 2 0
400-499 5 3
300-399 4 0

We can also look at this as a percentage of each category. The benefit of percentage is that we can also compare all receivers in the database—a set that includes all receivers who were invited to the combine, made a 53-man roster or made a practice squad.

Yards Faster than 4.37 All WRs Slower than 4.60
1000+ 4.8% 3.6% 1.7%
900-999 3.2% 2.5% 0.0%
800-899 3.2% 3.1% 0.0%
700-799 0.0% 2.5% 0.0%
600-699 3.2% 3.3% 0.0%
500-599 3.2% 3.1% 0.0%
400-499 8.1% 8.1% 5.1%
300-399 6.5% 3.9% 0.0%

It seems pretty clear that superlative speed isn't necessarily better, but drag-your-ass speed is definitely worse.

One exclusion is Keenan Allen, because my database is scraped from team pro days and the combine, and he held a personal pro day weeks after his college team's pro day. He ran a 4.71 and turned out to be a pretty good receiver (averaging 851 yards a season, and 974 yards per 16 healthy games). That doesn't change the overall result, and even pointing to specific exclusions doesn't undermine the fact that the odds are low in general that a slow receiver does well.

Let's also not forget that Keenan Allen likely didn't run healthy, despite telling the press that he felt healthy. He was held out of minicamps his rookie year, entered training camp fourth on the depth chart, had surgery on his injured knee during camp, and didn't catch more than two passes in a game until two injuries ahead of him on the depth chart and a month into the season. He clearly was a great pick and has played very well, but wasn't healthy until after the season started.

Again, I've used the fastest time—so DeAndre Hopkins gets credit for his pro day 4.41, Jarvis Landry for his pro day 4.51 and so on. Anquan Boldin isn't included for two reasons: 1) the set is from those drafted from 2005-2015 and he was drafted in 2003 and 2) he ran a 4.59 at his pro day.

The table above doesn't take into account weight or height, nor does it take into account other workouts, but it really doesn't matter for Treadwell, whose 216-pound running weight and other workouts do not bode well for him (the only 1000-yard receiver in the 4.60+ set is Kelvin Benjamin, 40 pounds heavier and four inches taller than Treadwell at their respective pro days).

All that aside, Treadwell's case from a college production standpoint isn't particularly special. Age-adjusting his production is important because he's the youngest well-graded receiver prospect in the class, but even after taking that into account, he falls a little below the production threshold that successful NFL receivers typically come from. Production in this case means "percentage of team receiving yards," otherwise known as "market share" of receiving yards. Below is a modified age-production table that has been adapted from Jon Moore's excellent work at Rotoviz on the subject.

A saving grace, however, accounts for teammate draft position and is a reason I think Michael Thomas' production doesn't count against him. If you have teammates good enough to get drafted, they'll rightly steal targets away from you, something that helps explain the market share issues of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones and DeSean Jackson. This is what that graph looks like after adjusting Treadwell for his teammates' expected draft positions:

Still, I'm uncomfortable with this adjustment for Treadwell in a way I wasn't for Thomas. Treadwell's relevant teammates are Cody Core, Jaylen Walton, Quincy Adeboyejo (2017), and Evan Engram (2017). Walton will not likely be drafted and Core is projected by CBS as a fifth-round pick, something that strikes me as a little too generous to him. Thomas shared the field with more obvious target hogs, like Ezekiel Elliot, Jalin Marshall, Nick Vannett and Braxton Miller.

Adeboyejo currently counts as a future second-round pick (and therefore as a current third-round pick for the purpose of teammate adjustments) and Engram is ranked as CBS' fourth-ranked 2017 tight end, despite weighing less than 230 pounds. Those both feel like very tenuous grades and I think the truth is closer to Treadwell's unadjusted production.

On the other hand, Treadwell's production in the final nine games of his 2015 season is 29 percent, which allows him to meet that age-production threshold without teammate adjustments. If one wants to chalk that up to accelerating recovery from a gruesome ankle injury in 2014, that makes sense, but also makes it harder to give him credit for a perhaps injury-impacted workout (there is some evidence that it could take 18 months for a professional athlete to return to previous form from a broken ankle and his workout is at the end of that timeframe).

In previous articles, we used workouts and college production to adjust our film grade as a mark of upgrading those who have more physical "upside" while downgrading those whose workouts were historically poor, like Treadwell's. We could do that, but in this case, let's flip it on its head and use what we know of the workouts to provide an analytical lens to evaluate the film.

It seems intuitive to me that if a player is found to be athletically wanting, then the way he must win is through technical expertise and finesse, and the bigger the athletic gap between he and his peers, the higher the standard for technical perfection we need to hold that receiver to.

With that in mind, let's be stringent about evaluating Treadwell, who is supposed to win with technical polish in the way we imagine "slow" receivers like Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Keenan Allen and so on.

Route-Running

There is no doubt that Treadwell is an extremely polished and refined receiver. Unfortunately, we'll have to hold him to a higher standard for "polished" than most receivers because of the unique weaknesses that come with a player like him. Let's get some of his best out of the way.

I don't think there has been a better receiver coming off the line in the draft in a while, though that it is admittedly a fairly narrow technical skill to rank across classes. The first hurdle for developing an effective and sustainable release off the line of scrimmage for many receivers is employing a diversity of release techniques with hands and feet.

I've seen Treadwell engage press corners with a variety of moves, including swats, rips, and chops, as well as two-hand techniques that attack the frame or the hands of a jamming defensive back. He consistently dips his shoulder and presents a smaller surface area than many smaller receivers.

With his lower body, he displays effective jab steps, stutter steps and false steps, and he knows how to change his step length to keep defensive backs off their game.

Those specific skills are nice and he does them one better—he displays the creativity, patience and boldness to use or slowplay these specific moves in different ways at different times. When scouting Michael Thomas, I mentioned Matt Waldman's oft-used comparison between route-running and telling a story, and this is an instance where Treadwell not only has the technical skills to tell the right story, but the creative effort and application to tell it well.

It's easy to spend a lot of time on things like releases and delve into the technical detail of what it means for a player to be good at them—as I've just done—but the point isn't in the specifics so much as it is in the emphasis. Treadwell is really good at a skill that is difficult to acquire and it's this skill that allows him to generate initial separation. Check it out, against Alabama's Cyrus Jones (top of the screen in both GIFs, which are intentionally slowed down):

Jamming the receiver and playing press is in fact a strength of Alabama corner Cyrus Jones.

Good lord, sign me up.

Treadwell running slants in the red zone is obscene at times.

But there's so much more to route-running and from there the beauty of what Treadwell does breaks down. I want to clarify that I'm not saying he's a bad route-runner. He's probably the second- or third-best route runner in the class after Thomas and Sterling Shepard—but the margin of error is so much smaller with a player like Treadwell.

The point behind all this talk about storytelling is deception and the ability to make a defensive back do exactly the opposite of what he would want to do is important. Sometimes, that ability doesn't necessarily have to come from traditional deceptive techniques like headfakes, jab steps at the break or wrong-arming a defender; suddenness can be just as effective a deceptive tool as faking a route.

Typically when we think of suddenness, we think of a Wes Welker or Percy Harvin (or in this class, Corey Coleman), but I don't think there's a better receiver in this class at simply stopping than Treadwell, and it's an underrated skill. It takes Treadwell maybe one and a half steps to stop, and the defensive back significantly more time to recover.

Good route runners like Michael Thomas (or professionally, Keenan Allen or Stevie Johnson) will excel on comeback routes and quick outs by seemingly running a different route and using the space created by the cornerback's reaction to catch the ball. Treadwell simply stops with no gather step and is open.

One quick thought on that, however:

Now, if you change that to 10+ yards, the number changes to 10%, so Mike is exaggerating his point—but it should be noted that the Vikings are already pretty good at that set of routes anyway, even without Wallace; adding Treadwell for that specific talent would add value, but not a ton.

That suddenness should add value on every route, but it provides the most opportunity on those routes. As for the other aspects of route running, Treadwell has shown the capability to be deceptive through the use of his eye discipline, drive and jab steps, as well as some ability with his hips and shoulders.

Most of his deception comes not from imposing the wrong route on the defender, so much as making every route look the same. It's the difference between what Greg Jennings did in Green Bay and what Stevie Johnson did in Buffalo—making every route look the same keeps defensive backs guessing of course, but looking like you're running the wrong route can make even the most patient cornerbacks bite.

Generally speaking, Treadwell does a very good job finding seams in zone coverage and attacking the holes in zones. At times, it can look like college defenses are just unfamiliar with the size of zones or coverage, and Treadwell consistently exploited those holes.

There are other strong positives to his game. He consistently works back to the quarterback, especially when the play breaks down, and has an intuitive understanding of his job on scramble plays.

Treadwell is more physical throughout the route than Doctson, Thomas or Coleman, and consistently wins his position throughout his routes against tough and strong cornerbacks. That comes both from natural strength as well as technique, as he does a good job using his arms and hands to keep defensive backs at bay, and then extends them without committing offensive pass interference to create more space when it comes time to locate the ball.

There are issues even with his strengths. While he seemingly gets off the line very quickly, he actually gets away with false starting a fair bit (and has been called on it, too) by sinking into his hips before getting off the line of scrimmage. Generally speaking, sinking into one's routes off the line can cause pretty significant timing issues in the NFL, even if it doesn't at college, and Treadwell avoided the weaknesses caused by that timing issue by sinking his hips (quite dramatically) before the ball was snapped.

It also speaks to how much work he has to do in order to generate explosion. The separation he creates as soon as the route begins is nice, but it likely won't continue throughout his career unless he fixes his starting stance while also finding a way to explode off the line.

One interesting issue with Treadwell is that he doesn't ever seem to round out his quick routes but is pretty inconsistent about how sharp longer routes on the tree are. He'll run them at the correct depth, but he'll angle his post routes in a way that disadvantages the quarterback or tip off defensive backs on dig routes. At other times, he'll play precisely without wasted footwork and he gains a step on his assignment, but imprecise routes happen often enough to be worth noting.

Treadwell creates separation at the release, and sometimes will do so at the break as well, but his issues with speed will show up if the route concept is longer than a three-step drop; by the time he gets to his landmarks, most defensive backs will have the requisite recovery speed to catch up to him. The suddenness he displays can be very useful in quick situations, but seems to degrade rapidly without baseline athleticism. Much of this was hidden in the excellently-designed Ole Miss offense. The play below shows what happens on those late routes and what happens when he rounds them off:

The fact that speed matters is not an accident.

I've also had issues with Treadwell's infrequent attempts (or ability) to stack the defensive back when he does get ahead. This kind of skill is critical for all receivers, but particularly so for those not running faster than 4.42 or so. For Treadwell to be inconsistent about it is kind of shocking to me given how he's developed other foundational skills and what his limitations are. Until he develops this, it really limits his ability to use much of the separation he gains with technique.

While I've seen some stuff that says Ole Miss' offense has sight adjustments for receivers, I'm not too sure they do. Option routes don't seem common, and Treadwell's adjustment against defensive backs was largely designed to get him open on his designed route, not run a new route. It's not a weakness of his, but an unknown.

There are more than a few nits to pick with Treadwell as a technician, but keep in mind that he's still one of the better route-runners in the class, and better than some entire draft classes at the skill. But to the point of overcoming his athletic limitations, I'm not convinced.

Receiving

Matt Harmon of Backyard Banter tracked Treadwell as winning 75 percent of his contested catches, second behind Josh Doctson. Lance Zierlein at NFL.com says Treadwell is a "[s]mart receiver with a competitive edge when the ball is in the air. Catch-winner." Dane Brugler wrote that Treadwell was "outstanding on 50-50 balls, showing above average body control and hand-eye coordination."

You get it.

I'm not convinced. Generally speaking, I think the consensus of experts (plus Matt's data) is more reliable than individual analysis, but I can't shake what I saw—I had him winning five of twelve contested catches in the eight games I watched (1/3 against Alabama, 0/1 against Vanderbilt, 1/2 against Florida, 0/1 against New Mexico State, 0/1 against Texas A&M, 1/2 against Auburn, 1/1 against LSU, 1/1 against Oklahoma State).

Beyond that, I had a drop rate of 11.1 percent. PFF has a drop rate of 9.9 percent and Harmon has a drop rate of 9.5 percent. We all count drops differently, but for all three datasets, that's above the average drop rate and therefore below average as a stat.

Drop rates do not tell us everything, or even most of the things we need to know about hands, and neither do contested catch rates. But they can be demonstrative.

In terms of winning contested catches in the air on 50/50 balls, Treadwell seems to do alright, but he has a pretty limited catch radius (or rather, he has a good catch radius, but an overblown one) as a result of his vertical lift and therefore cannot provide the same kind of bailout opportunities that Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffrey or Allen Robinson do for their quarterbacks.

Treadwell has also consistently drawn praise for strong hands and preternatural ball tracking. While I agree he has strong hands (though his ability to secure one-handed catches is like Doctson's—overemphasized and not reliable), I think his ball tracking at times is pretty poor and has led to incompletions. There are times when it's stunning, particularly

Here's a play that demonstrates the combined issues he's had with ball tracking, failing to stack a defensive back, and catching outside of his frame:

This play isn't counted as a drop for me, I don't think the way he's framed makes it fair to call "catchable," but It is his fault because of how he adjusts to the ball—he flattens inside when he should have accelerated up. Some of this is because he wants to cut off the CB, but it’s not worth it without making the catch possible. You can stack the CB without losing the ball in this situation (something he did in his final touchdown for the Auburn game).

There are a lot of good things in that clip, too. Treadwell, does a great job boxing out the defensive back at the catch point, even if he didn't stack him before that moment, and that is a consistent, reliable quality of his. He created separation with excellent handfighting technique and arm strength, another consistent feature of his. He maintained his line on the route, and most obviously, he had separation deep—something that the previous 3000 words may have convinced you is impossible for him.

Those are details. Taking a step back, Treadwell is largely good when it comes to the act of catching a football. He does a great job, most of the time, of framing the ball with his shoulders and creating a window to it through his hands—often bringing his hands together before starting the catch process. He doesn't need to spend much time or energy gathering for the ball, and he can extend outside his frame to secure the ball. Even better, once the ball is in his hands, opponents have a tough time knocking it out.

He's taken a lot of hits over the middle, and I haven't really seen the ball jarred loose. He does a good job securing it away from defenders and instinctively tucks the ball into the safest slot he has available.

At the same time, however, he's had some bad brainfarts. He exhibits the wrong catch technique at times, and will attempt to basket-catch at very inopportune moments. I think this suggests that Treadwell has very good concentration, but has not established muscle memory. While I think this is an issue, it's less of a problem than a more experienced receiver like Michael Thomas showing inconsistent catch technique.

His rawness comes out at other times, too. He doesn't know where or how to track the ball at times, sometimes starting the catch process too soon (allowing defensive backs to break it up) or will begin with the wrong starting point. For example, he tracks the ball over the wrong shoulder in Ole Miss' first red zone opportunity against LSU on a fade and it made it far too difficult to adjust to a ball that was thrown to (and should have been thrown to) his outside shoulder. The defensive back was playing with inside leverage and broke up the pass.

Treadwell did not fix this issue at their next red zone opportunity, but had generated more separation on that route so it didn't matter. He displayed this specific problem several times throughout the course of the games I saw, including the bowl game against Oklahoma State. It creates awkward catch opportunities and makes the quarterback look worse than he was.

Overall, his ability to catch and secure the ball is above average, but I don't think the plaudits he's earned are accurate. Again, I think this is a moment where above-average is not good enough to place him above his peers, and he has to be technically very sound given how often he'll have to deal with contested catches because of his physical limitations and some of the rawer techniques he demonstrates.

After Catch

Not much will be said about Treadwell's after-catch abilities because that's not how many people or teams will perceive him. But I think it's underrated. It's not necessarily good, but he creates additional yardage on hitches with his suddenness and has the intuition to take advantage of it with the correct footwork after the catch.

He doesn't show speed in his after-catch work, but he definitely demonstrates power and balance, and he's bully-balled his way into yards you wouldn't have expected him to get. While he's not as tough to bring down as a typical running back, he certainly causes issues for lighter DBs and can turn underneath routes into first downs, even if he can't turn them into touchdowns most of the time.

That said, it will remain a limitation for him even as he develops additional jukes and moves to separate from would-be tacklers. He was the focus of a surprising number of screen passes in 2014 and did a decent job with them, but I think it ended up creating inflated expectations of his after-catch vision, which to me seemed average this last year.

Miscellany

Is Laquon Treadwell the best blocker in the class? Probably. The way you'd hear it, however, he's the best blocking receiver prospect we've had in a generation. It's a weird point of emphasis and hype, and he's really created issues for himself.

Again, he's probably the best blocking receiver in the class, but his highlights mask some big issues. Yes, he is certainly the most physical one we've seen and sometimes it feels like Andre Johnson imposing his will. He'll drive defensive backs and pancake them. He'll hurt their dignity.

He'll also miss.

Rather than go into detail on something that's rather extraneous, I'll just link to a gallery of missed blocks—hopefully with the understanding that this isn't a comprehensive grade on his blocking but more a demonstration that he isn't Gronkowski.

Conclusion

At his best, his game reminds me of Jarvis Landry, and that's not because of the easy speed comparison (sometimes the laziest comparisons are in fact accurate). Landry's ability to create on underneath routes and specifically on curls and comebacks is among the best in the NFL and will always have value. Beyond that, Landry's contested catch ability and strong hands gives him unique ability in those situations. Ont he other hand, Landry is one of the worst receivers among those with a high number of targets at separating deep or creating intermediate opportunities for his quarterback.

While Treadwell was able to get behind some of the college DBs he played against, I don't see it happening in the NFL; some of his best plays don't seem sustainable—getting schemed open on smash routes against non-adaptive defenses running Cover-2 won't be as easy (CBs flattened their zones too often and not because of his effort) and safeties will close quicker. He's inconsistent about stacking defensive backs and using his body to shield the ball—€”and while that's a critical skill on comeback routes, he find ways around that problem with his incredible ability to stop on a dime.

Treadwell is fundamentally good at what he does and an extremely sound receiver. But there is such a thing as baseline athleticism and the ability to use that athletic ability to compete. In order to overcome it, receivers need to chase more and more difficult gains in technical precision—like Peyton Manning's anticipation versus his failing arm strength. If anything, try not to take away from this the idea that Treadwell is a bad receiver. But there are a lot of questions about being able to translate to the next level.

Data I used ended up creating a comparison of his strengths and weaknesses to Dez Bryant, but that comparison falls away once we include his workout numbers. Bryant isn't just faster, he's more explosive—and it shows up in a big way on gameday. Treadwell doesn't have a data-inspired NFL comparison at the moment now that his workout scores are included, and he likely won't end up having one at all.

Were Treadwell the age of an average draft receiver, he would be a third-round pick for me. As it is, I think his development curve has shown remarkable growth and that he'll more likely than not improve on the finer technical details. Treadwell is so young, and those who listened to Jon Moore talk about his findings on age should know what that means.

Given his athletic limitations, however, I think his ceiling is capped. His age alone is not enough for me to consider him in the first round, but it certainly makes me feel better about him near the top of the second. Since writing my Thomas and Doctson reports, I've found their combine workouts good enough to move them into the first round for me, so this puts Treadwell squarely behind them and the distinction between Treadwell and Coleman is not too significant to me.