Vikings: Laquon Treadwell hoping for second chance to make first impression
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Patience is the virtue that illuminated hard truths Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has accepted barely two seasons into his NFL career.
The 2016 first-round draft choice is answering for unfulfilled promise by pouring time and energy into becoming a better professional while maximizing a new opportunity to prove his viability on a team teeming with playmaking receivers.
Treadwell might have turned a corner with his modest but eye-catching performance in Minnesota’s most recent victory, 23-10 over Green Bay last week at U.S. Bank Stadium. At issue entering Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens is will there be enough snaps for him to maintain his momentum.
“I think he’s improving,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s catching the ball good. His route depths are much better.”
Targeted three times, he caught all three passes for 51 yards, included a dazzling, one-handed grab along the sideline. He was a solid run blocker away from the football. And he fired up the Vikings’ sideline with a punishing (though illegal) open-field hit on Packers cornerback Lenzy Pipkins.
Treadwell also halted Clay Matthews from waltzing into the end zone, racing 60 yards to knock the ball out of the Green Bay linebacker’s hands after he had grabbed Jerick McKinnon’s second-quarter fumble.
Last week’s receiving yardage almost doubled his career output from 14 previous games. His involvement certainly benefited from Stefon Diggs being sidelined with a groin injury and Michael Floyd going out in the second half with a hamstring issue -- ailments that continue to nag both players.
Still, Treadwell’s integration into the Vikings’ offense, and the trust offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur showed in the 22-year-old, boosted his confidence.
“Perfect timing,” Treadwell said. “The work is paying off. It’s coming around and it’s catching up. I’ve just got to stay hungry and stay focused on the little things, be accountable, be a great teammate and see where it takes me.”
Treadwell likened his free-wheeling comfort to being back at Ole Miss, where he was among the best wide receivers in the country, and high school in Illinois, where he was an All-American prospect. More technique-sound and dialed in to Minnesota’s scheme, adjusting to things instinctively, trying not to overthink everything.
“Laquon wants to overdo things all the time,” Zimmer said. “We might leave and he might come out here and run routes for an hour. That’s where we have to get him to understand (that) it’s a long season. Do your work, but he’s constantly talking about ‘I need to get better, I need to get better.’
“So whatever it is, he’s always trying to do more, sometimes to a fault. But that’s the good part about him. He wants to get better and wants to continue to improve.”
Treadwell said the hardest thing about being a pro is having trust in your ability and staying within yourself.
“A lot of kids are in my situation where you know you can play, you’re just waiting on the opportunity to make the most of it,” he said. “And just staying hungry every day. Keeping your faith and keeping your dream alive. There are so many good players in this league that go under the radar, so you’ve just got to keep working and making plays.”
Treadwell’s one-catch rookie season was a pox on him and the Vikings’ front office. Lack of attention to details, sloppy route-running and the inability to separate himself from defenders in practice left him buried on the depth chart behind the established Diggs and emerging Adam Thielen.
He was inactive for six weeks, including Week 1. He had his only reception in Minnesota’s eighth game.
“I had a terrible first year,” Treadwell acknowledged.
Skepticism soared. First-round bust is a heavy burden to bear even for a 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect.
“That label doesn’t really go any farther than the draft,” he said. “There are more guys than not who are still playing who didn’t get drafted in the first round. I try to keep everything in perspective that it’s still football. There’s a lot of guys working hard and putting in the same work I am. I still think I’m the best. I’ve just got to work towards it and get better every week.”
Such as recognizing man-to-man and zone coverages, how deep cornerbacks are playing and where the safety is lurking. Above all, be in the right place at the right time.
“Every time I think about something negative I try to turn it into a positive,” Treadwell said. “The biggest lesson is knowing I can always go harder. I know I can do better. I’m always learning. Every time I leave a game I see I can do things better.”
With Diggs and Floyd slowed by injuries, Treadwell could be the No. 2 option behind Thielen -- a second chance to make a first impression.
“What’s important for Laquon is important for all the other receivers -- do your job, run your routes the right way, and when you pop open and we’re looking at you, to make the catches,” Shurmur said.
He definitely made an unlikely one against the Packers.
Treadwell was working on Green Bay reserve cornerback Josh Hawkins on second-and-5 from the Vikings’ 22-yard line late in the third quarter with the Vikings leading 17-10. He pulled up along the left sideline, reached behind with his right arm to scoop Case Keenum’s pass out of the air and dragged the ball into his body.
The play extended a drive that ended with Kai Forbath’s 34-yard field goal and a two-score Minnesota lead.
“We’ve seen a few of those,” Keenum said of Treadwell’s practice reputation. “He’s able to make a lot of miraculous catches like that, but for him they’re pretty normal. To get that guy going is going to be a really good addition and somebody who’s going to make plays down the field. I’m excited he made a couple plays, and I’m excited to see where he’s going to go.”
The stakes are high for Treadwell to avoid the fate of Cordarrelle Patterson, another Vikings first-round draft choice with raw talent who failed to master the craft and was jettisoned. Patterson’s speed and kick-returning prowess bought him time.
Without discernible progress this season, Treadwell might be on borrowed time in Minnesota.
He referenced the NFL’s top receivers -- Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. -- as fully developed receivers who earned their playing time and lucrative contracts through diligence.
“I’ve just got to be patient and always look at other guys’ stories to see what they did to get where they’re at,” Treadwell said. “I’m just trying to keep that in my focus. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s the biggest thing for me, staying patient and hungry.”