It’s officially the off-season, as I’m sure you surmised by the obnoxious amount of Tom Brady pictures on our homepage, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and now us writers are stuck grasping at straws and crying in the dark. Now, I’m relatively new to this whole writing about the Vikings thing, as I launched the site in May of 2015 (After years of practicing by arguing and being banned from nearly every Vikings message board imaginable). So, this is my second full off-season, which means that I’m getting better at doing what writers do in the pre-combine/draft/free agency period… Reaching for things to talk about.
So, I was hanging out on /r/MinnesotaVikings on Reddit and saw a post by the aptly named /u/mofo66 that was essentially asking what people thought about Laquon Treadwell’s first season as a Viking. What went wrong? Why didn’t he get more playing time? Is he a bust?
Now, I just wrote a piece for VikingsTerritory.com about the changes I think the organization needs to make in 2017. My answer was that they, and by they I mean Rick Spielman (and his scouts), really need to start looking at bringing in more Big Ten talent, or really, less SEC “talent”. So, I googled a few articles and came across something that shook my entire being… Something that I hadn’t heard before, but I also may have missed as I’ve not been as active on Vikings social media as I typically am… That “Something” is the fact that the Vikings 2016 number one overall pick from the draft, Laquon Treadwell, only ran FOUR routes in college (See Below). When I saw that I decided that enough was enough and that I had to write a piece about the Vikings recent history with receivers from the South Eastern Conference.
I also have admitted multiple times in my pieces that I’ve grown up in a household where Big Ten football was the second most important (and as of recently in Bowl Games, second most disappointing) thing, beside the Vikings. So, I admit that bias before continuing with this piece, because I’m confident enough in what I’m going to say that I can be as open as possible in that regard. So, with that, its time to talk about “Slick Rick” (and his predecessor, as Spielman became the vice president of play personnel in 2006 and the general manager in 2012) and his/their history of drafting wide receivers from the SEC whenever they pick a receiver from the 4th round or higher, and then smaller, even Division II Southern schools in the later rounds (Stefon Diggs and Moritz Boehringer being the only exceptions). Essentially, whenever the Vikings have felt that they have a need at receiver (Which keeps happening, because of who they’ve been drafting), they end up drafting someone from the SEC and literally every time that player either under performs or is a complete bust. Every time.
Since the Vikings traded away Randy Moss (Under a different organization, although the word I’ve heard is that Zygi told Red McCombs not to trade Moss before the sale was finalized, so they’ve always gotten points from me for that) they’ve drafted 12 wide receivers. Again, that’s 12 receivers in 12 years. Of those 12, seven of them came from the SEC. Not only that, those receivers that were mostly drafted in the first or second round. So, before we delve into this madness, let’s break down the wide receivers the Vikings have selected since 2005…
Seriously. Look at that. Every time the Vikings have made a move on a receiver in the draft and gone in the first or second round, it’s always an SEC player. The lowest ranked receiver of consequence (Who, at least before this past season, was arguably the best of the bunch), in regards to what round he was drafted in, was Jarius Wright in the fourth round (and his teammate Greg Childs, who I do feel for). Other than that they spent first round picks on: Troy Williamson, Percy Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell (and a second rounder on Sidney Rice). Now, you can debate whether or not Percy Harvin ended up being a bust, or Sidney Rice even, that’s really not the point of this article as neither played a full career and both had to retire early due to injury and thus never lived up to their full potential (Which to me is at least one of the definitions of a bust) which ended up forcing the Vikings to draft another receiver, from the F-ing SEC.
The Vikings clearly ALWAYS go to the SEC when they’re looking to draft a wide receiver and it has backfired essentially EVERY SINGLE TIME. The only receiver of consequence in that list, of over a decade of draft picks, is Stefon Diggs. A fifth round pick out of Maryland, a Big Ten school. Adam Thielen isn’t listed because he was a walk-on of sorts, but as everyone knows he went to Minnesota State – Mankato. Now, this all could be coincidence, some say, as there are other wide receivers that played in the SEC that are doing quite well (Like Julio Jones). So, sure, there are going to be good players coming out of that division, too, but for the most part there seems to be a common thread that exists between a lot of players that come out of the SEC. That thread is actually two things that are intertwined… They essentially deal with how a player develops, how they learn the game, and how they WORK on the(ir) game (That’s three things, I know).
Since that Reddit post about Treadwell was the impetus for this article, I’ll use him as an example. Again, to be as honest as possible… I will admit that I really, really didn’t want the Vikings to draft Laquon Treadwell this year. We held an online chat for the draft and the first thing I said was: “ANYONE BUT TREADWELL!”. When things started looking like he’d end up on the team, I panicked and threw my computer in the river. I had my reasons, most of which were based on an article that I wrote about Treadwell’s measurables (Or at least the ones that he allowed the NFL to measure, always a bad sign). He was slow, and for a guy whose game relies on fighting for contested/jump balls a lot, I was amazed to see that he had an extremely low bench press score and an even worse vertical jump (and a barely better broad jump, all of which scored below the 30th percentile against the other receivers in the draft). In fact, most of his measurables that would’ve been developed in the weight room scored really, really low. And that’s what scared me, as that implies one of the main issues I have with a lot of SEC players (Especially the “Blue Chip” ones, ironically).
Take a look at his measurables (Keeping in mind that these aren’t the full amount of drills that most receivers did do at the combine, which means he felt like participating in those drills would have more of a negative effect on his draft stock than not participating), and then look at the measurables of Moritz Boehringer, for comparison…
Graphs Courtesy of MockDraftable.com
Graphs Courtesy of MockDraftable.com
The bigger the dark area, the better. Essentially the percentages are what his scores looked like compared to other receivers in that draft/at the combine. So, for example, Boehringer’s Broad Jump was better than 96% of other receivers, while Treadwell’s was worse than 73%. That’s staggering, especially, again, for a guy whose supposed to be a jump ball specialist.
While Boehringer’s numbers are perhaps the best ever (No exaggeration, in the graph I referenced I took the averages of Boehringer’s scores and he beat even Calvin Johnson (MockDraftable’s database only goes back to 1999, so, no Randy Moss)) and thus hard to compare anyone against, Treadwell’s numbers are still very telling and worrisome. To me they implied something that, again, I’ve found in a lot of SEC players. That Treadwell has made it this far based solely on pure talent (Like Cordarrelle Patterson). That he hasn’t been putting in additional work in the weight room (or film/study room) because he’s never had to TRY. The perfect example of this phenomenon I’ve been calling the SEC-U-InBankrupcyCourt is JaMarcus Russell. When you’re as gifted as some of these players, you really never have to try to improve your game as it just comes naturally. So, when you get to the NFL, where every player is as big, or as strong as you, the lack of work ethic shines through and you end up flaming out, again, like JaMarcus Russell.
So, you’ve got a guy like Treadwell whose game is predicated on beating the defender at the point of the catch. At winning jump balls, essentially, by being stronger than the other guy. Except… both his bench press (Upper body strength) and vertical jump (For jump balls) were < the 25th percentile (His vertical jump was in the 16th). These were the drills he CHOSE to do, and thus was working on with a personal trainer beforehand, and these were the results. Ick.
But, football isn’t solely a physical game and isn’t solely based on the measurables of those on the field. There is a lot of thought that goes into playing the game, especially for players that play in skill positions (The amount of plays, alone, is staggering, let alone the essential new language you have to learn that starts with “OMAHA” for some reason). So, when it comes to the mental aspect of the game… it’s pretty well known that the SEC has pretty relaxed standards when it comes to the “Student” part of “Student Athlete”. I could go on and on about this, but I believe that this quote from CBS News sums it up pretty succinctly:
Okay, let’s look at how four-year graduation rates at some SEC schools such the University of Mississippi (33.9 percent), University of Tennessee (30.6 percent), Louisiana State (26.2 percent) and Auburn (35.7 percent) compare with some Big Ten schools such as the University of Michigan (72 percent), University of Illinois (67.4 percent), Penn State (62.3 percent), Indiana University (49.5 percent), and Ohio State (48.6 percent). When you focus on graduation rates among these two conferences, it’s a rout.
Yikes. Now, some of you may say… What difference does that make? They’re football players, not engineers for NASA. Well, honestly, it makes a pretty big difference. Just ask Mike Zimmer, who in this 2015 interview with Pioneer Press brings up the importance of intelligence about five separate times. Zimmer has made no secret about how he values intelligence in his players, especially in a position that can be as complicated as wide receiver. The thing is, in a position like receiver or cornerback, if a player isn’t necessarily the biggest, or fastest in the league (Think Antoine Winfield), if they’re smart and learn the nuances and complexities of the game, they can use their smarts to compensate for that lack of size or natural speed.
And, after getting absolutely destroyed on Reddit for this article, I do want to point out that the Big Ten does have higher standards, academically, for it’s student athletes. While they do accept some “partial qualifiers” (One of two main requirements for a sports scholarship), those players CAN’T PLAY until they’ve reached 51 credits after their second year and 78 after their third. They’re essentially saying that you can come in, but until you prove yourself you can’t play.
That’s why the graduation rates are as they are and that’s my point. Those extra requirements (and the results shown above, because of them) force players to work hard OUTSIDE of football, which increases their intelligence, their work ethic and their perspective. My goal isn’t to call SEC players “Stupid”, but rather to point out that the Big Ten does have additional requirements and standards that help a player grow and also learn the value of hard work. Of course there are exceptions, as I’ve said elsewhere, and super star wide receivers from the SEC do exist, but when it comes to marginal players, or players with “potential” (code for a “project”), I’d take a player who had to work his ass off academically over one who didn’t. One who graduated while playing football, over one who didn’t.
The best comparison here is Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson. Diggs is technically slower than Patterson. From what I can find, Patterson ran/runs a 4.37 40, while Diggs ran a 4.43-4.47. Diggs, however, seems quicker and is open more often because he understands the offense and his role in it. Diggs perhaps is the best route runner in the entire NFL, while Patterson has famously struggled to learn the complexities of the NFL game (or even the ability to consistently run the same amount of yards on certain plays in practice). That problem seems to have manifested in the Vikings latest SEC acquisition in Laquon Treadwell, as well. Treadwell, who was labeled the most “Pro-Ready” receiver in the 2016 draft somehow (despite him literally only running FOUR routes at Ole Miss (See below)), apparently ran a limited route tree at Ole Miss and one of the reasons that Zimmer has said that Treadwell hasn’t broken into the line-up as much is that he struggles with his route running. If you read the link on “Limited Route Tree” above, you’ll see that Treadwell actually only ran about FOUR different routes in college, as hyped above. Now, a lot of that can be contributed to the type of offense that Treadwell was in (The … Ugh… Spread), but, that number is insane and explains so much and is something I can’t believe I’m just learning now.
Check out this quote from Zimmer (from 1500 ESPN), as it is pretty telling in regards to Treadwell’s (in)ability to learn more routes:
“I still think he’s thinking about the number of steps to take on each route and things like that, being at the right depth.”
Sound familiar? Cough… Flash… Cough… Ugh. It’s the same thing, over and over again and I truly don’t understand it. If your head coach values smarts, why not go to the division that values/produces that? Especially when you LIVE in Big Ten country and your general manager’s brother played for Ohio State (And he himself played at Southern Illinois University)? For the longest time I thought that perhaps one of our scouts was a former booster for South Carolina University, but this has persisted for so long that it has to be more than that because every time the Vikings believe they need a wide receiver, and thus use a top pick on that position, they go back to the SEC and every time they end up getting burned. How haven’t they learned from their mistake(s)?!?
So, it’s time that someone pointed this out to the powers that be at Winter Park/Reddit, as I worry about what’s going to happen in a year or two and Treadwell’s rookie contract expires and the Vikings end up scouring SEC rosters for the 8th time. So, while I don’t believe that we have a huge impact on what the team does (Although I did meet Norv Turner the morning of the 2016 draft’s second day/round and did tell him to draft Boehringer… You’re welcome), I think this is something that we need to be vocal about or at least make more people aware of (By sharing my article! Because I’m super selfless). That graph above, of the number of SEC receivers drafted and the outcome of their careers/time as a Vikings, alone is enough for people to at least re-consider the name “Slick Rick”. And, if nothing else, I’ll take that.