Laquon Treadwell ended up being the fourth receiver off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft, a rough slide in terms of ego and zeroes -- Treadwell will make about $1.7 million less than Corey Coleman, who went eight picks earlier. From a football standpoint, however, falling to the Vikings at No. 23 might be the best thing that could have happened to the former Ole Miss star.
Had Cleveland snagged Treadwell instead of Coleman, Laquon would be stuck catching passes from the deteriorating RGIII (at least until he went down with an inevitable injury). Instead, Treadwell joins promising young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on a team that won the NFC North last season. Never mind that slow 40 time, the Vikings will ask Treadwell to use his physicality and explosiveness on intermediate routes in an offense that rarely takes shots downfield. His demeanor and willingness to block on the perimeter is a perfect fit for Mike Zimmer's run-heavy scheme.
"We felt like we needed a big receiver that can go up and get the football that can battle in some of the areas and that is why he intrigued us so much right from the start," Zimmer said the morning after adding Treadwell to his offense. "I guess it was in January when we got done that this was one of the guys we were looking at. He wasn't specifically it, but a big, physical receiver."
Treadwell should be a Day 1 starter.
The Vikings cut last year's big money acquisition, Mike Wallace, and appear ready to move on from for former first-rounder Cordarrelle Patterson, who's drifted towards the bottom of the depth chart during a disappointing three-year stint. That leaves the starting X-receiver job wide open.
Stefon Diggs led the team with 54 receptions for 720 yards last season, but at 6'0, 195, he doesn't have the size to be the dominant physical presence that Zimmer craves. Things set up for Treadwell to be the rangy, intermediate target and Diggs, who ran a 4.46 at last year's combine, to be the vertical threat on the other side.
"After the season got over, and you go through your year-end review, one of the things we talked about was that we wanted to get a big receiver with a big catching radius," Zimmer said last week. "We just felt like with this football team that was important for us to get some size out there. We have Diggs, Jarius Wright, kind of smaller guys, so that was part of it."
I asked Christopher Gates, who runs SB Nation's Vikings site, who could push Treadwell for the starting X spot.
The only guy that could, potentially, give Treadwell a run for playing time is Charles Johnson, a third-year player the Vikings nabbed from the Browns' practice squad. Johnson was hyped by many last season as a player that could "make the leap," but a rib injury early in the season made him a non-factor. Of the Vikings' remaining receivers, he's the one that has the size and the catch radius to compete with Treadwell for that spot. But, by the time the smoke clears, I'd expect Treadwell to be the guy.
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The Vikings don't need Treadwell to be a downfield threat.
The man that previously wore No. 11 in Minnesota was also a former Rebel receiver. The Vikings traded for Mike Wallace last offseason, hoping he would add a vertical threat to Norv Turner's offense. The experiment was an utter failure: Wallace caught a career low 39 passes for just 473 yards and two touchdowns and was released in March.
The reason for Wallace's flameout in Minnesota is simple: the combination of a rickety O-line and Bridgewater's underwhelming arm strength meant the Vikings just couldn't get the ball to him downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Bridgewater attempted only 48 passes that traveled 20-plus yards in the air last season (23rd in the league), completing just 15 of them for 436 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions. The depth of Bridgewater's average target was just 7.4 yards.
All of which is to say, the Vikings didn't draft Treadwell to be a downfield burner.
"We all can't run 4.3," said legendary former Vikings receiver Chris Carter when asked about Treadwell's oft-criticized 4.63 40-yard dash. "But, hey, I've seen the Vikings draft a lot of guys who can run. But they can't play receiver. And didn't they just let a guy go named Mike Wallace? Wasn't that his thing? Speed?"
Treadwell can be Bridgewater's 6'2 safety valve.
One of the more interesting criticisms I've heard of Treadwell-to-Minnesota comes from Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, who argues that because Laquon may struggle to separate from NFL corners, "his pairing with Teddy Bridgewater is not ideal as Bridgewater is hesitant to throw into tight windows."
Indeed, Bridgewater has been cautious with the football—GM Rick Spielman told Pro Football Talk in February that he'd like to see his quarterback "letting it loose a little more, giving some guys a chance to make plays even though it may not look like it's open."
If anything, having a 6'2, 221-pound receiver who can muscle DBs out of the way on 50-50 balls will make Bridgewater more willing to throw into tight spaces.
"People have complained that Bridgewater doesn't throw a lot into tighter passing windows, but he really hasn't had anyone like Treadwell to throw those types of passes to," Gates told me.
Bridgwater's hesitancy is the result of mental hurdles, not physical ones—he led the NFL with an accuracy percentage of 79.3 last season. Pair that pinpoint accuracy with a receiver like Treadwell and the results could be lethal.
And this is where Treadwell is really going to be valuable: serving as an outlet receiver for his young QB. Bridgewater was pressured on a league-high 46.9 percent of his drop backs in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. The Vikings addressed their offensive line issues with the free agent signings of Alex Boone and Andre Smith, but having a guy who Bridgewater can chuck it up to when things get dicey is just as important.
"[Treadwell] is a big, physical receiver who's going to help Teddy in critical downs—red zones, third downs," scouting director Jamaal Stephenson told Scout.com. "We think he'll be productive that way."
He can also help in the running game.
Treadwell or no Treadwell, the offense in Minnesota runs through Number Twenty Eight. Superstar running back Adrian Peterson was the rushing champ last season and only two teams in the league had a higher running percentage than the Vikings (51 percent of all offensive snaps).
Anyone who watched Treadwell in college knows that run blocking is part of his game.
"I could put a highlight reel together and I know Adrian Peterson's going to be very excited how this guy plays the game and blocks at the edge," Spielman said.
Treadwell's vicious crack-back blocks are the ones that show up in Vines, but it's his ability to latch onto a defender and drive them out of the play that makes him so valuable.
"He's the best blocking receiver that I have ever seen," Zimmer said. "I can't remember one that blocks as well as this guy does that I have seen on tape."
It also helps that Treadwell is a willing blocker. The Vikings, who had more rushing attempts than passing attempts in 11 games last season, won't be throwing the ball nearly as much as Quon was accustomed to at Ole Miss. But I can't imagine the modest, soft-spoken Treadwell whining about not getting targets.
It should be noted, of course, that the Vikings didn't spend a first round pick on Treadwell for his blocking acumen. He's a receiver first, and it's in that capacity that he'll be most valuable to Peterson and the ground attack. The effectiveness of pounding the ball with AP is blunted if there's no pass threat to keep defenses honest, something that's not lost on offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
"We've gotta make plays to back people off and get people to say, 'Hey, if we play this defense, if we play this eight-man front, if we single these guys up, they're gonna make us pay.'"
Treadwell can continue his tutelage under Cris Carter.
After the devastating leg injury that ended his sophomore season, Treadwell turned to a Hall of Famer for advice.
"Laquon was in a bit of a slump," Carter told The Star Tribune. "They wanted to know if I could talk him through his junior season. I work with a lot of the top receivers. It's been great getting to know Laquon, and it's even more special now because he also happens to play for my favorite team."
The two met up again this spring as Treadwell was training for the NFL Combine, spending two weeks working out together in Florida. They'll likely be spending even more time together in Minnesota. Carter, who's 40 time coming out of college was identical to Treadwell's, built his legendary career on making tough catches in clutch situations and the knowledge he shares will be directly applicable to Treadwell's new role.
Carter, by the way, agrees that his pupil found the ideal landing spot.
"I think his football IQ, his temperament, is the perfect fit to what they've been looking for an awful long time," Carter said. "They weren't able to get it through free agency. They weren't able to get it through the guys they've drafted. But I believe they'll get it from Laquon. With Teddy and Adrian, they are only a couple of players away from being real, real, real good."