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With the 2016 NFL draft just weeks away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they’re slotted as such. As we start the top 10, the scouting reports get deeper. Next up is the top receiver on the list, whose downfield speed has sparked legitimate concerns, but who has many of the tools already in place for NFL success.
10. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
Height: 6' 2", Weight: 221
Bio: Speed. It’s what everyone wants in a receiver, and there are many who have been wrongly debited simply because they didn’t run fast enough in a straight line. Jerry Rice can tell you all about that. This year, the primary subject of the 40-yard-dash debate is Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell. As a slot receiver in 2013, Treadwell caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns, and secured the SEC’s Freshman of the Year award. Then, after recovering nicely from a leg injury suffered in Nov. ’
14, Treadwell caught 82 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in ’15, including three scores against Oklahoma State in a Sugar Bowl win that season.
Still, at the combine, all anyone wanted to talk about was the 40-yard dash Treadwell wasn’t going to run and what that said about his speed. Treadwell finally ran his 40 at his pro day on March 28, posting a 4.63 time. Not a real surprise, given what people had seen on the field, but it brought the discussion to a head all over again, and many draft analysts dropped him down their hypothetical boards as a result.
“The questions, they don’t really bother me,” Treadwell said at the combine about the speed talk. “I still have to go out there and play and have the production on the field. I don’t let it get to me. I’ll run what I run, and just stay confident in myself.”
Does he agree with those who have pegged him as more of a possession receiver?
“I don’t,” he said. “I think I’ll only get better. I’ll continue to work, continue to get the best training now that I’m at the highest level. I’ll just continue to push myself to get better, and my game will show eventually.”
Treadwell’s game already shows in a lot of ways, and though he’s never going to be mistaken for Randy Moss, he’s got a lot on the ball already, and there are very specific reasons he’s still the top receiver on my board.
Strengths: Treadwell has the idea size for an NFL receiver with decent acceleration and excellent musculature. Shows a lot of power in several aspects of his game—as an after-catch receiver, he’s able to turn out of a defender and get upfield. Excellent on contested catches, where he can use his vertical leap and upper-body strength to catch the ball with bodies around him. Times his separation moves well and properly gauges any subtle push-offs. Trails the ball very well with his eyes; maintains vision even when he’s face-guarded and won’t give up the ball location too quickly with early looks. Feigns his position very well at the line of scrimmage, and can foot-fake and eye-fake his cornerback into starting in the wrong direction. Stutter-go routes are a specialty. Gets up to speed pretty quickly off the start of his route.
Treadwell understands that he’s going to see a ton of press coverage with his deep speed deficits and seems to welcome the hand-fighting that requires. Sinks into his cuts well and breaks off into them smoothly, with minimal movement. Ran into openings, especially when he sank into zones, more often than was shown on the stat sheet. Clears through slants and skinny posts quickly—he understands angles, which adds to his field speed, and he’s able to make up ground with long strides. Good blocker with the potential to be great with coaching and technique work. Treadwell also serves as a valuable decoy for other receivers, because he takes coverage with him wherever he goes. Mature player with a highly competitive personality.
Weaknesses: Will need to broaden his routes, since he runs mostly curls, drags and vertical routes. Needs to be more efficient in his movements in short spaces. Speed issues cannot be ignored—Treadwell isn’t a burner who’s going to break multiple defenders on posts and vertical routes, and if his quarterback is throwing it up for grabs, those defenders may have time to converge on him. While he’s relatively quick off the snap, Treadwell tends to get choppy with his steps at the point of second-level acceleration. Will have quicker cornerbacks following him throughout his entire routes unless he beats them with correctly-times cuts. Competitive demeanor and handsy style could lead to more penalties in the NFL.
Conclusion: Watching Treadwell’s tape, I couldn’t help but notice the number of times he created openings in places where his quarterback had already made the read elsewhere or just wasn’t equipped to see it and throw it. This is one reason that, of all the receivers in this draft class, I believe Treadwell could most benefit from an NFL team with a full route tree and a quarterback used to making full-field reads and making the deep hash throws and across-the-body stuff that helps to define the best signal-callers in the pros.
That said, if Treadwell went to a team whose quarterback was more comfortable with an intermediate-to-deep game as opposed to something more vertical, I think he’d still be a force multiplier with his ability to make contested catches and get yards after the catch. There are legitimate concerns about Treadwell’s downfield speed, but what people may be overlooking is that this is a receiver with many of the tools already in place for NFL success—and he could be even more effective when he’s given the rest.
Pro Comparison: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (first round, 2013, Clemson)