Could 2018 be the Year of Treadwell?

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Perhaps outside of Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook, the most talked about Viking so far in the three weeks of organized team activities has been third-year receiver and consensus “bust” Laquon Treadwell. While most receivers break out in their third year and Treadwell has had to deal with a mixture of playing through injury and being behind the best wide receiver duo in the NFL on the depth, most people have written him off as a (once again) blown receiver pick by Spielman in the first (or second) round. While he has shrugged off the notion that this year is “make or break” for him as a Viking (and potentially as a pro athlete, although he’d most likely end up getting another shot elsewhere as there’s nothing NFL coaches love more than unrequited talent), 2018-19 will end up determining whether or not Treadwell indeed stays on the team, especially with the addition of former Titans/Bears receiver Kendall Wright at the same position. While it was thought by many in “the know” that Treadwell was basically halfway out the door (give him time, he did run a 4.64 40) the rumblings out of Twin Cities Orthopedic (Performance) Center so far this off-season is that he might be, just might be, emerging in his third year after all. If that’s true it means huge things for this Vikings team and because of that I do believe that I’m going to retire my snark when it comes to talking about Treadwell and my love for Michael Thomas back before that draft, as at the end of the day having a third receiver with a big body and the capability of coming down with contested catches in the end-zone could, again, mean gigantic things for this Vikings offense. So with that in mind let’s take a look at some of the chatter coming out of TCO Performance Center (What a mouthful) to see if there’s any fire underneath all this smoke!

Obviously, that introduction has a lot to unpack. As stated above, Treadwell has stated that he doesn’t believe that this year is make or break for him. Despite a rookie season where he literally had one catch, he actually was on the field a lot more last season than people realize, but that didn’t end up materializing into much, as wludford of the points out:

“Last season Treadwell had over 500 snaps, but still very limited production: 33 targets, 20 receptions for 200 yards. By comparison, that was the same production, on eight more targets, as Jarius Wright last season – who played half the snaps as Treadwell. Treadwell was well down the list of targeted receivers – 5th – and a sharp dropoff after preferred targets Adam Theilen (135), Stefon Diggs (94), Kyle Rudolph (76), and Jerick McKinnon (61).”

With that breaking down to just over two targets a game, but as the stat shows he really wasn’t able to capitalize on the increased opportunities. Jarius Wright was known as Mr. Clutch as he rarely got targeted but when he did it was typically for a huge third down pick up or a touchdown in overtime. It’s probably that that lead the Vikings to sign another Wright in Kendall Wright, who is very similar to Jarius Wright in terms of size and speed, but is definitely a better player as he’s had a season with almost 1,200 yards and has a bit more speed and strength. That does mean bad things for Treadwell regardless of how you slice it, even if you want to argue that the Vikings did need depth at the receiver position regardless and that Kendall Wright and Treadwell play entirely different positions (with Treadwell not really being the slot guy). Correct me if I’m wrong (I know you will, I’m talking to you cka2nd) but I don’t think that Wright was entirely a slot guy when he had his monster year in Tennessee, but he’s definitely built as a slot guy. Beyond that, outside of the two or three games that Diggs seems to miss each season, there’s really no reality in which Treadwell breaks into even the top three (or four) in terms of touches this year either. He’s going to be behind the top receiver duo, a top five tight end and a second-year running back that is going to be catching a lot of passes (especially with Jerick McKinnon gone).

The thing is, though, that this team doesn’t need Treadwell to be a 50 – 75 catch guy as with his skill set he could still end up with two looks a game but those looks could be in the realm of what Jarius Wright did, in terms of them being in the red-zone or contested catches for big third-down pickups. That’s really what the bar is right now for Treadwell and while that’s disappointing for a first round pick you have to look at that pick/draft as a wash as Thielen ended up filling in as the number one A/B receiver on the team which made Treadwell redundant anyway. Because of that, it’s weird to say that any production you get out of Treadwell is basically just gravy as you’re getting such great results from Diggs and Thielen. You could chalk up Treadwell’s subpar first two seasons really as the first being about the injuries he attempted to play through (he was still recovering from a wicked leg injury and did request to be put on injured reserve at one point (and was denied, which is strange to say the least) and the second being about former Vikings quarterback Case Keenum.

Whether it’s his style or the type of offense he’s been a part of, new Vikes quarterback Kirk Cousins has been known to spread the ball around a lot more than the likes of Case Keenum, who you really could blame as the biggest reason that Treadwell didn’t blow up last season. Now, I’ve been a pretty vocal (and obvious) Treadwell “hater” but from what I hear through my connects, Treadwell was actually open a lot last season (per the guys who watch All-22 video). Because the coaches didn’t trust Case Keenum they basically gave him two options on every pass play (Diggs or Thielen, or Rudolph sometimes) and that’s why at least once a game you’d see Keenum dump the ball off when someone (typically Thielen) would be WIDE OPEN down the field for what would’ve been an easy touchdown. Cousins won’t have that leash and depending on how the offensive line holds up a guy like Treadwell, a short yardage/contested ball “specialist” (at least in college) could really come in handy. The coaches are aware of that (if the online All-22 tape watching guys are, the coaches are) and that could be why Treadwell is getting so much time with the number ones so far this off-season, or it could be because they want to see what chemistry, if any, he has with Cousins before giving up on him completely for someone they know (despite not knowing personally) like Kendall Wright. It’s really going to come down to the fundamentals for Treadwell (and not thinking too much).

My biggest gripe with Treadwell coming out of college was that he came from a school that ran limited route trees and that for a guy that was known as a jump-ball specialist, he didn’t seem to have the physical tools necessary to do that (in the NFL/generally). Sure, he’s 6’3″ but the results from both of his vertical and upper body strength drills at the combine put him in the sub-20% class (meaning that 80% of all receivers in that draft could jump higher and do more reps on the bench press). That troubled me, especially as for a guy his size you’d think he’d do more reps on the bench. I mean just watch this exclusive footage we obtained of Treadwell’s combine performance…

Luckily, Treadwell has been the type of guy who has really tried to work on getting better. His rookie season it was reported that after starting those OTA’s with a lot of drops and fumbles, he was spending hours in front of the JUGS machine. Considering that part of his issue(s) stems from his lack of route running ability (coming out of college and in terms of footwork, handwork, getting off the line, etc.) and also just his fundamentals in that regard (coming off the line, his handwork, running crisp routes, etc.). For a guy that’s relatively slow (but apparently pretty quick), running crisp routes is a must and luckily for Treadwell his teammates are arguably the best two route runners in the NFL (perhaps outside of Antonio Brown) which you’d think through just pure osmosis would’ve helped him the same way that Cris Carter essentially built the most devastating offensive weapon of all-time by teaching Randy Moss that work-ethic (search YouTube for “The Moss Method” if you think he only plays when he “wants to play”), that body control, those hands. However, it seems that at least some of those physical limitations come from a mental block, something that coach Zimmer has talked about a few times.

Earlier this off-season Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stated that he believed that Treadwell needed to “get out of his own way”, which lead many (myself included) to believe that the team believes that the largest impediment in Treadwell’s development is Treadwell himself or rather, his mind. That could mean that Treadwell has a case of the MoBo’s, meaning that he’s trying far too hard to think about what he’s doing while he’s doing it that he’s not just letting his body work through it. Fellow 2016 draft pick and wide receiver Moritz Boehringer is probably the most gifted wide receiver prospect ever, but due to his lack of football experience it was clear that he was thinking while he was running his routes (counting steps, yards, etc.) and that basically slowed him way down, to the point that he couldn’t even get on the field in any pre-season game despite, again, being such an amazing physical specimen that you have to wonder why they didn’t just toss him a bubble screen to see what would happen.

It’s the old dog, new tricks idea and that exists for a reason and unless someone has a certain skill set from playing a sport for most of their youth, it’s really hard for them to add that skill set in the pros. Sure, I just contradicted the whole “Moss Method” idea but Moss was extremely gifted physically, he just needed someone to help him hone those skills by imposing work ethic and sharing tricks of the trade. While that sounds similar to what I’m assuming Diggs/Thielen are doing with Treadwell, it’s different in that he isn’t gifted physically (in this context) and isn’t stronger or faster than the corners he’s going up against (which was again, my biggest gripe with him coming out of Ole Miss). That means that he’s had to try to add talent, not tools, if that makes any sense and it’s really hard to add things like that in the pros. That doesn’t mean that his career is doomed, especially considering that the Vikings aren’t asking him to do too much.

While Treadwell shrugged off the importance of this upcoming season, head coach Mike Zimmer basically shut that down and expanded upon his earlier comment about Treadwell being in his own way, saying (according to VikingsWire)

“It’s important any time you are in your third year, it’s important. He is continuing to get better. I think he stopped being so hard on himself and is just letting it flow now. I think that is part of it.”

So with all of that and my trust in Cousins (the offensive line? Not so much), I also should probably stop being so hard on Treadwell. That means I should probably re-write a lot of this, but like a star quarterback out of the SEC I’m too lazy (and most likely high on codeine cough syrup… Sip, Sippin…). While I’m still not anywhere near convinced that he’s going to end up third on the depth chart this upcoming season, the reality is that if Treadwell were to develop into a serviceable third option behind Diggs and Thielen, it could add a wrinkle to this offense that could really be hard to beat. Treadwell is the largest receiver on this offense (with an inch over Thielen, at least depending on the varying reports on both of their heights) and his style of play is completely different from that of Diggs and/or Thielen as well. Considering the attention those two bring from opposing defenses and the fact that Cousins is really good at going through his progressions, I dare believe that Treadwell could end up having the break out year he doesn’t believe he needs. If that’s the case that means a lot of great things for this team (especially as if Cousins has the time to get to his third or fourth option on a pass play that means the offensive line isn’t completely falling apart), really great things actually.

Think of Treadwell as the canary in the coal mine. If he’s doing well that means that the offense is doing well and that alone makes me need to root for the guy. Beyond that, his different style and the fact that he could/should be going up against the nickel back could make for mismatch heaven… Which means that perhaps 2018 will be the year of Treadwell. I wouldn’t mind being wrong about this one.