At the conclusion of the Minnesota 2018 Training Camp, I was convinced that this was the season of Laquon Treadwell.
I didn’t think the he was poised for 90 catches and 1,300 yards this year. I didn’t think he was going to magically make us stop regretting passing on Michael Thomas. I simply thought that 2018 was going to be the year that Treadwell finally started making some meaningful contributions to the Vikings offense. He had a very promising camp that cemented him firmly in the third wide receiver spot behind incumbent stars Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. He was using his big frame and reliable hands much more efficiently. Kirk Cousins was looking his way a lot more often than Case Keenum did in 2017. Treadwell seemed to be doing the little things right with a much better attitude. I was fully prepared to use “breakout” instead of “bust” as a prefix on his name.
Smash cut to Treadwell’s Week 1 stat line against the San Francisco 49ers: four targets, two receptions, and 18 yards on 38 snaps. Same old Laquon. I tried my best to make his performance sound impressive, but I don’t think it worked.
Laquon Treadwell had four targets on Sunday, which is tied for second most in his career. His two receptions were one off his career high.— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 10, 2018
(How's that for spin?)
So what went wrong? One first quarter play in particular caught my eye on Sunday. It was a pass that Treadwell dropped. The drop turned out to be the least of his worries on this play.
A play, a microcosm
At first glance this looked like your run of the mill drive-killing drop on third down. But Cousins throwing short of the sticks on 3rd & 6 with two linebackers right in front of Treadwell struck me as a bit odd when watching it live at the stadium. Even if the pass was completed, there was little chance that Treadwell was going to get the first down. Perhaps K’Waun Williams blitzing off the edge between Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill forced Cousins to throw before he was ready.
But then after the play, Treadwell immediately began jawing with teammate Kyle Rudolph about some sort of miscommunication. Something was up.
When I finally saw the broadcast replay, it became pretty clear that Cousins’ pass might not have been intended for Treadwell in the first place.
While the pass was a bit wobbly due to Williams hitting Cousins’ hand as he releases, the replay angle certainly looks like it was intended to hit Rudolph in stride instead of going slightly behind Treadwell. Either way, this wasn’t how the play was drawn up.
The coaches film leaves little doubt that Treadwell wasn’t supposed to be where he was on this play.
After the snap, Treadwell just sort of stands there and shuffles a bit before running his route. Rudolph actually gestures at Treadwell during his own route, appearing to implore Treadwell to clear out. Since I am not John DeFilippo and I haven’t personally discussed this play with any of the parties involved, it’s tough to tell exactly what Treadwell was supposed to do here. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say he was supposed to drag underneath Rudolph to make the linebackers hesitate and leave Rudolph with more space to catch the crossing route. Instead, Treadwell was the one who hesitated. The result: a drive halted because he dropped a pass that wasn’t supposed to be his to drop.
Of course, picking on one bad play isn’t really fair to Treadwell. Missing an assignment here and there is a problem that is hardly unique to him. It happens to everyone. But this is the kind of mental error that kept Treadwell from seeing a ton of snaps during his first two seasons. You can’t be making “rookie mistakes” in your third season. If it keeps happening in the future, it’s tough to envision the Vikings coaching staff tolerating it. Mishaps like this are more meaningful when they involve a player trying to shed their reputation of making mishaps.
Barking at teammates on the field isn’t going to do him any favors either. There have been rumblings about Treadwell’s attitude since his arrival in Minnesota. It appeared that things had drastically improved in that area this year, so seeing that kind of body language on Sunday wasn’t a great look.
But don’t give up yet.
Even after spending all this time dissecting a single mistake, I’m still here to tell you that it isn’t time to abandon all hope on Treadwell just yet. The 49ers weren’t exactly an ideal matchup for Treadwell thanks to their acquisition of Richard Sherman in the offseason. While Sherman might not be the player he was during his Legion of Boom days in Seattle, he’s still a big cornerback that can negate the physicality that Treadwell likes to use to create space. Treadwell had a tough time getting separation whenever he lined up on Sherman’s side of the field.
Treadwell’s first down catch during the two-minute drill in the first half was encouraging, especially where he made a couple players miss to get the first down. He definitely ran the right route here to find a hole in the 49ers zone.
After going through most of the coaches film paying close attention to what Treadwell did off the ball, it was encouraging to see him so active. He finished blocks on running plays. On plays where Cousins was forced to scramble, Treadwell kept active to try and give his quarterback a target. He used his hands and body well to keep defenders off balance in his routes. He didn’t appear to have any egregious errors outside of the one we already broke down. The effort was certainly there, even if the results didn’t follow Week 1.
The 2018 season didn’t get off to a great start for Laquon Treadwell. But it’s much too early to assume that he won’t make a significant impact for the Vikings this year. Hopefully Treadwell can stay positive and start making those meaningful contributions soon.