Take yourself back to the 2016 draft. At pick 22, one pick before the Vikings, I was sitting in traffic at LAX, waiting to pick up my dad for a weekend visit. Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell were both on the board. I was ecstatic that we were likely getting our choice of the two, since Washington had DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed- they surely wouldn’t take another pass catcher. Until they nabbed Josh Doctson, leaving us with the almost automatic choice of taking Laquon Treadwell. I left LAX feeling like we got a consolation prize, but it wasn’t hard to come to terms with it. Most media was talking about the pick with a similar tone to the one we’re seeing about Dalvin Cook – flawed, but a stea. Even the haters thought he fell too low as the 4th WR selected.
As the preseason went by, Treadwell struggled to crack the 1st team lineup. We worried, and our worries came true. That was a precursor to one of the most disastrous rookie seasons a Viking 1st rounder has had since Dimitrius Underwood. Treadwell logged just three targets (plus one that was nullified due to defensive penalty) and a single catch. He didn’t crack 10 offensive snaps until week 8 against Detroit. His single catch came in that game. He spent most of his rookie year buried on the depth chart, relieving Charles Johnson or playing punt gunner. Eventually, his season was ended by an ankle injury in week 14.
Put simply, Treadwell was a disaster. There’s no way to look at his production or even participation in football games that doesn’t look abysmal for a 1st round pick. We’d be disappointed in this if he were a 4th rounder. Here’s how Treadwell’s year looked by offensive snap counts.
Things were trending upward, but it’s not like he was earning a consistent role. Obviously, Treadwell’s involvement on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit sticks out, as Stefon Diggs was injured for the game. Treadwell filled in as WR3 while Thielen and Patterson took the top two slots. He usurped Charles Johnson to do this, which isn’t much to blow our horns about, but something he hadn’t accomplished to that point. He was out-pacing Jarius Wright for snaps, however, functionally serving as the 5th WR and being deactivated for gameplans that required Wright as another slot receiver.
He got hurt two weeks later, and now two of the four in front of him (Patterson and Johnson) are off the team. Treadwell will assuredly get his playing time. But a year this bad is almost never surmountable. how can we possibly trust a player who couldn’t even get on the field as a 1st round pick? Before we can talk about how to turn things around, we have to ask what kept Treadwell off the field. Was it his lack of athleticism? Attitude? Injuries? Did he just fall apart as a human? It’s important to ask this question- “he didn’t play because he is bad” is alarmingly reductive, and doesn’t give us any indication of his future in football. A player who can’t catch is different than a player who can’t run is different than a player who can’t grasp the playbook.
The primary issue with Treadwell has been mental. Most notably, route depth, which is one of the bigger differences between the NFL and college as a wideout. I’ll let his former WR coach Grant Heard explain it:
“The biggest thing is, if you’re supposed to be at 14 yards, that quarterback is expecting you to be at 14 yards every time,” Heard said. “That ball is coming out in the NFL in a hurry. It’s those little things where you can’t be at 12 and you can’t be at 16, you have to be right at 14 and you have to be there when you’re supposed to be there.”
In college, there’s a little more room for error. You can adjust, weave through lesser defenders and make up for small mistakes. Many college QBs throw inaccurate balls anyways, so your flaws are covered up. In the NFL, no such luck. Precision is a tough thing to get down, and receivers can struggle with it. Messing this up can cause interceptions. Not matter how good your routes are, if you’re running them at the wrong depth, the coach can’t put you on the field. You can crush a CB off the line, gain separation, and if you’re a yard too deep, it’s a pick. No coach can trust that. So his lack of snaps could be entirely independent of his actual skillset. Say Treadwell does learn to run routes at more precise depths- does his physicality or catch point skill come through? We’re at the same place we were during 2016’s pre-draft process- completely in the dark. One thing is certain – if he can get that ironed out, he’ll play. How well is another question entirely.
Laquon Treadwell’s pro sample size is much too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about this. The only conclusion we can draw is from the size of the sample itself, and it points to a solvable problem. What we can do is see if his skill set is translating onto the field when he can be mentally sound enough to get on it. Remembering sample size, that should all be taken with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean it carries no meaning.
Treadwell showed a consistent ability to win off the line of scrimmage in his limited time on the field, but not with physicality – he had a nice lateral step on most routes that put man defenders out of position. Unfortunately, on “9” routes, (vertical routes down the field), this requires acceleration that Treadwell does not have, and likely never will. Treadwell never got open downfield, despite being give ample opportunity to do so. His only downfield target was a disastrous miss in week 13 against Dallas. His use will have to be limited to a short-distance possession receiver- perfect for a west coast, but limited nonetheless. Treadwell did draw a couple of penalties simply by being in good position (one of them nullifying his 4th unofficial target).
At the catch point, he showed a natural, instinctive ability to “box out” the defender and get good positioning. Again, there were only 4 examples of catch points, so… salt. He also had a good ability to find holes in a zone. Unfortunately, his intermediate routes didn’t often have time to develop due to pressure (which is precisely as absurd as it sounds). Since Treadwell lacks YAC speed and burst, he wasn’t able to help overcome the Vikings’ crippling protection issues. But the routes he did run were nice, and lived up to the expectations we had from him as a draft prospect. No more, no less.
For Treadwell to succeed in the NFL, he needs to transition to an NFL level of route depth precision. That should be the biggest takeaway from this article, and frankly, it isn’t too much to ask. If he can earn his way onto the field by fixing that single, catastrophic issue, the rest of his skills will shine through to whatever degree they can. The rest of his skills can never usurp such a damaging problem – even Dez Bryant is unplayable if he were to run his routes at the wrong depth. So to fix him, the Vikings’ coaches need to get him consistent in that way, and they need to use him as he should be used – as a possession, short-yardage receiver with the ability to grind out YAC against smaller DBs. Intermediate routes are pie in the sky until you can protect a 5-step drop (this shouldn’t be much to ask, but here we are). Deep routes should be largely out of the question, unless his job is to simply clear out a defender.
Treadwell has some real, pressing issues he needs to address. If he doesn’t, he’d be chalked up as one of the most devastating 1st round busts since Troy Williamson. As a 21 year old rookie, it’s likely that he has capacity to learn this. But he potential is not the same as results. As with all things, time will tell, but at least we can have some specificity to apply to our general Treadwell pessimism.
Thanks for reading!