On Wednesday the Minnesota Vikings announced the inevitable: They would not be picking up Laquon Treadwell’s fifth-year option.
In three years since being drafted 23rd overall by the Vikings, he’s caught just 56 passes for 517 yards (9.2 yards per catch) and grabbed one touchdown. Even without their current cap situation, the Vikings wouldn’t have signed up for a 2020 season that would pay Treadwell in the range of $10 million.
But the former Ole Miss standout is still under contract for 2019. Will the Vikings give him more more shot at finding a role in the offense? Or will they move on before he gets another chance in purple? What can we learn from his past?
What went wrong
In the lead up to the 2016 draft, many analysts were on board with Treadwell as a top receiver prospect despite his unimpressive 40 time. Teams reportedly believed he would get faster because the 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout was still working his way back to full speed from a horrific leg injury. They believed that his ball skills, physicality and shiftiness would translate to the next level.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein quoted a scout in Treadwell’s draft profile saying: “He’s going to get beat up because he’s slow but I like everything else he does. You would think scouts would learn about overestimating speed and underestimating tape.”
Treadwell’s production was flat-out fantastic. Against top competition, he registered 82 receptions in 13 games as a junior for 1,153 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Zierlein compared him to DeAndre Hopkins, who had been questioned because of a 4.57 40-yard dash but ultimately became an elite receiver.
“Both players should be defined by their talent, ball skills and consistency of production over pure speed numbers,” Zierlein wrote.
It’s true that the 40-yard dash isn’t a strong predictor of success but Treadwell’s physical shortcomings existed across the board at the Combine. Per Mockdraftable, he scored in the 31st percentile or lower in the vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and bench press.
The website Relative Athletic Scores, which uses a 1-10 scale via a formula that adds Combine scores with height/weight, gave Treadwell a 4.03 out of 10. Hopkins scored a 5.31.
Players who have overcome those types of scores like Antonio Brown and Chad Johnson were generally outstanding route runners.
Pro Football Focus was skeptical back in 2016. Sam Monson penned a piece titled: “Why Laquon Treadwell is not a top wide receiver prospect.” In the article, Monson wrote:
“There are receivers in the NFL that can succeed despite not being able to consistently separate, but they are rare, and the majority of those that can’t simply don’t become high quality players at the position.”
As a rookie Treadwell did not play in the team’s opener and caught just one pass in nine games. Zimmer said in late September 2016 that the first-rounder was struggling with route depths.
“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,” Zimmer said.
In a game against the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Sam Bradford targeted Treadwell on a red zone throw. The ball came short of Treadwell, who appeared to run his route too deep. The Vikings ultimately settled for a field goal and lost the game by two points.
The following offseason was filled with hope. Treadwell told the media prior to 2017 that he’d never focused on routes before and said he was working on becoming a technician. He performed well in camp and earned the No. 3 spot behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
But it became clear in Week 7, when he started in place of an injured Diggs, that creating separation was still an issue. On the first drive, quarterback Case Keenum gave him a shot at a 50-50 ball down the sideline but Brandon Carr picked off the pass over Treadwell. He finished the game with three catches for 28 yards.
Zimmer’s patience had clearly run out after 2017. He shredded the young receiver with harsh comments at the NFL Combine. He pointed out that Treadwell was focusing on the wrong things with his workouts and used the example of him running stadium steps after training camp practices.
“We’ll be in training camp and he’ll run the stadium steps at night, which is not helping him for practice the next day,” Zimmer said.
“He thinks he’s trying to get better, trying to get better, he’s just going about it the wrong way. So he needs to get out of his own way,” the head coach added.
Last offseason the Vikings signed veteran Kendall Wright to compete for the No. 3 job but Treadwell again shined in training camp. He received high praise from quarterback Kirk Cousins and appeared to have built a rapport with the $84 million QB.
Minnesota believed in early August Laquon Treadwell was making it. Could be a nice turnaround. https://t.co/40uENRliPi
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 1, 2018
But that turned out to be for the worse. Cousins targeted Treadwell in key spots, including in a comeback effort against the Green Bay Packers in which the 23-year-old receiver dropped the ball, turning into a Packers interception. In total, Cousins threw at Treadwell 53 times and gained just 302 yards and registered just an 80.3 rating.
In Week 16, the Vikings elected to play Chad Beebe over the 23rd overall pick in 2016.
Treadwell told the media on locker cleanout day that he saw himself as a 100-catch receiver and said he had a “great year.”
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) December 31, 2018
What happens now
Midway through last season, Albert Breer reported that the Vikings might trade Treadwell. His name was also rumored at this year’s Combine.
We got some trade names here (Haha Clinton-Dix, Janoris Jenkins, Jimmie Ward) ahead the deadline. Another one to watch: Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell. https://t.co/sZcU8r5i5J
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 30, 2018
At this point it appears that there simply isn’t any interest around the league in trading for Treadwell, who will carry a $3.1 million cap hit into next season. The Vikings could try to attach a future draft pick in order to move him to a rebuilding team and thus clear up their salary cap trouble.
If there are no takers, the once-promising receiver will be fighting for his NFL life this offseason. Wednesday’s announcement was a foregone conclusion but it also solidified the fact that there will be selling hope in camp or explanations about route running or claims of progress. If Treadwell remains on the team, he will be battling for any shred of playing time with a bullpen of other receivers.
The Vikings didn’t do anything to clearly replace Treadwell this offseason — though they did not have the cap space to chase free agents like Tyrell Williams or Golden Tate. They picked two wideouts in the seventh round, Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell and Colorado State’s Olabisi Johnson. Jordan Taylor, who the Vikings signed as a free agent, along with Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra and Jeff Badet will also be vying for jobs.
If Treadwell does make the squad, the addition of tight end Irv Smith Jr., who had the fourth most slot receptions among tight ends in the draft class (per PFF) could take snaps away from him.
The door was cracked open by Zimmer at the owner’s meetings. He said new assistant coach Gary Kubiak has “big plans” for Treadwell. It’s hard to say what that means. Could the Vikings try to use him in the slot more often to create a two-way go for quicker release off the line of scrimmage? Or was it simply a throwaway line to avoid sinking his trade value?
There aren’t many other options for the Vikings, who severely lacked a fourth weapon beyond Thielen, Diggs and Kyle Rudolph last year. Treadwell’s last chance is finding a gear that might not exist.