His Path to the Minnesota Vikings
As the 2015 season came to an end, the Minnesota Vikings Wide Receivers group as a whole was at what may have been its lowest point in the history of the franchise. Stefon Diggs led the team with 720 yards through the air, but after that, the group was abysmal. Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, and Mike Wallace combined for just 1,196 yards. Yes, you read that correctly. 1,196 yards. Combined. For all five of them.
So it came as no surprise that when the 2016 draft rolled around, the Vikings were targeting the receiver position. Draftniks including Mike Mayock (LINK), Walter Cherepinsky (LINK), Bucky Brooks (LINK), and others were listing Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell at or near the top of their boards.
Not all of the pre-draft rankings had Treadwell ranked so high, however. Pro Football Focus, in fact, rated Treadwell fifth, behind Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Sterling Shepard, and Michael Thomas, saying
“While he doesn’t create the same kind of separation you’d like to see from a top wide receiver prospect, Treadwell is strong, though inconsistent, at the catch point and good with the ball in his hands after the catch.”
At least thus far, that’s pretty much been the description of Treadwell, to a “T”. When Treadwell was still available to the Vikings at pick number 23, the Vikings pounced. Fans of the team - at least on the DN (Caution Hawt Taeks) - were mostly supportive of the pick.
One of the suspected reasons that Treadwell slipped in the draft (he was the fourth receiver selected, behind Coleman, Doctson, and Will Fuller IV) was his slow 40-yard dash time at his pro day, where he ran a fairly pedestrian 4.61. The slow time may have been the result of the gruesome injury he suffered in a November, 2014 game versus Auburn. Treadwell had fractured his tibia and dislocated his ankle hauling in an apparent go-ahead touchdown to take the lead over the Tigers, who were ranked number three in the nation at the time. However, after review, the call was overturned and ruled a fumble, which Auburn recovered to seal the victory. Treadwell resumed his career at Ole Miss the following season, and put up 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. In January of 2016, he announced that he would forgo his Senior year and enter the NFL draft.
Disappointment: His First Two Seasons
His first season in Minnesota was a complete disaster. Before the season even started, the team lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a gruesome injury of his own. In came Sam Bradford, and though the veteran quarterback was extremely accurate, his offensive line offered little protection or time to wait for Treadwell to find an opening. The result was an inordinate number of checkdown throws by Bradford - the type of throws that the rookie wideout was rarely in position to catch. Frustrations mounted, Treadwell’s opportunities were rare, and small injuries began to pile up. His ankle. His foot. A hamstring. Half way through the season, his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, abruptly resigned, replaced by Pat Shurmur. Talk of “Bust” echoed throughout the Vikings fanbase. It would have been impossible for Treadwell not to have heard it. He finished the season with just one catch on only three targets. Dismal numbers, for sure.
2017 brought new hope. Shurmur was back. Bradford was back again and the quarterback position seemed stabalized. The team had made moves to try and clean up the offensive line issues in order to stretch the field. Adrian Peterson was gone, and the team looked to move on from a run-first style of play. But at the same time, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had established themselves as a very good one-two punch, Kyle Rudolph had great chemistry with Bradford, and the team had drafted Dalvin Cook, a receiving threat out of the backfield, to go along with Jerrick McKinnon.
And just like that, Sam Bradford was hurt, and in came Case Keenum. Whether it was the fault of the offensive line, or his rapport with Diggs and Thielen, Keenum rarely looked Treadwell’s direction. The season ended with Treadwell amassing 20 catches on 35 targets for 200 yards. Better, but still nearly a non-factor, despite playing 500 offensive snaps. By comparison, Jerrick McKinnon played a similar number of snaps (527), and was able to produce 991 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns, on 201 touches. By the end of the season, it was clear that Treadwell would need to make significant strides in 2018 in order to remain with the team.
2018: Expectations of Advancement
Laquon Treadwell entered the spring of 2018 with two underwhelming seasons as a professional now under his belt. He turned 23 in June, which puts him only a few months older than Calvin Ridley and Anthony Miller, two of the more celebrated wide receivers in the 2018 draft this past spring. He isn’t exactly past his prime. An argument could be made that he wasn’t fully healed from his leg injury, and his 2016 rookie season could be chalked up as a sort of Medical Redshirt season. Suddenly, his 2017 season, with 20 catches for 200 yards isn’t so terrible. In any case, 2018 was sure to be a crossroads in his professional career.
At the scouting combine in February, Mike Zimmer was blunt about the fact that Treadwell may not have been helping his own cause, saying
“Laquon needs to get out of his own way,” Zimmer said. “He’s a guy that works extremely hard, probably doesn’t do things the right way all of the time. We’ll be in training camp and he’ll run the stadium steps at night, which is not helping him for practice the next day. “He thinks he’s trying to get better, trying to get better, he’s just going about it the wrong way. So he needs to get out of his own way.”
This season, he has a new offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo, who coaxed career years out of wide receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge while he was the Offensive Coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. And, maybe more importantly, Treadwell now has a new quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who comes to town with a reputation for spreading the ball around to all of his weapons.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who has a well-earned reputation as someone who doesn’t mince words, told Chris Tomasson of the The Pioneer Press:
“Kirk has come in with an open mind,” Zimmer said, via the Pioneer Press. “He hasn’t read all the things about what people are saying about Treadwell. … It helps when you’re a receiver and the quarterback has confidence in you that you’re going to go out there and make the play … Treadwell has worked his rear end off to make sure that Kirk has confidence in him.”
And through camp, the results have been very good. Treadwell has consistently made nice plays, and although he caught only one pass in last week’s game against the Denver Broncos, all signs are pointing up for the young receiver. His coach has noticed, too.
“He’s caught the ball good,” Zimmer said. “(He’s) running good routes, he’s done a nice job blocking. He cares really bad, he wants to be really good, he works his butt off. He’s done good.”
The Future: What Could the Future Hold for Laquon Treadwell?
Years ago, a prevailing sentiment about NFL wide receivers was that it took them three years to acclimate themselves to the speed of the game and the advanced offensive systems that NFL teams ran. Theoretically, in year three, a player was at his physical and mental plateau, and his stats should reflect that.
Reality was much different than theory, however. For every Cris Carter (BIO) (who had his first 1,000 yard season in 1993 at age 28) there are a dozen players like Cris Collinsworth (BIO) (who had his first 1,000 yard season as a rookie in 1981 at the age of 22). The 2018 season will be Laquon Treadwell’s third, and forgetting draft position for the moment, what comparable players can be found who might be similar to Laquon Treadwell?
How about a player like Keenan McCardell (BIO)?
McCardell, who is currently the Wide Receivers Coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1991, but never played a down with the team as a result of an injury. He was released and signed with the Cleveland Browns in 1992, and played four seasons with the team, catching 1, 13, 10 and 56 balls in those four seasons. It wasn’t until he went to Jacksonville in 1996 at the age of 26 that he finally flourished. He caught 85 balls for 1,129 yards. In fact, over the next eight seasons, McCardell topped 890 yards seven times, and topped 1,100 yards five times. McCardell wasn’t known for his speed, either, and his size (6-1, 191) and style of play are similar to Treadwell (6-2, 215). McCardell ended his career with over 11,000 yards receiving.
Or maybe Derrick Mason (BIO)?
Mason, who at 5-10, 190 was known as a tough, possession-type receiver, began his career with the Tennessee Titans as a punt and kickoff return specialist, but saw snaps on offense similar to Laquon Treadwell. He caught 14, 25, and 8 balls his first three years before breaking out in the 2000 season with 63 catches for 895 yards. He then went on a run where, over the next ten seasons, he fell short of 1,000 yards just twice (750, 802). He finished his career with over 12,000 yards receiving.
Or, perhaps Eric Moulds (BIO) is the best comparison.
In 1996, at the age of 23, after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills 24th overall out of Mississippi State, Moulds caught 20 passes for 279 yards. At 24, he caught 29 passes for 294 yards. In 1998, at the age of 25, Moulds broke out with 67 passes for 1368 yards, the start of an eight year stretch which saw him average 1,065 yards per season. Moulds’ size? Same as Treadwell - 6-2, 210 pounds.
Moulds, who played twelve seasons in the league, earning three Pro-Bowl invitations, gained 9,995 yards and scored 49 touchdowns, ran a fairly pedestrian 40 himself, posting a time of 4.55 seconds - not too much faster than post-injury Laquon Treadwell. And Moulds apparently thought that a comparison to Treadwell was justified. After the Vikings took Treadwell in the 2016 draft, Moulds told the Pioneer Press,
“We both played at Mississippi schools, in the SEC, we’re both big receivers that attack the football. I think we have a lot of similarities. People talk about his speed, but I think that is overrated because there is football speed and there is clock speed, and I think Treadwell has football speed. He can get open, and I think we both have the knack for that.”
General Manager Rick Spielman thinks the comparison to Moulds is fitting, as well. After the 2016 draft, he told Chris Tomasson
“He reminded me a little bit of Eric Moulds in Buffalo, who … I thought was a very good player. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, like he has a point to prove.”
If Laquon Treadwell can continue to develop and, most importantly, stay healthy, a career path similar to that of Keenan McCardell, Derrick Mason, or Eric Moulds is certainly not out of the question. Perhaps with Kirk Cousins ending the revolving door at quarterback that the Vikings have had for years, that career path may be closer than a lot of Vikings fans think. Resurrecting his career before its even dead and figuring out how to properly use his talents isn’t out of the question. It certainly would silence the legion of fans who are ready to call him a “bust” before he’s even turned 24 years old.