The Biggest Vikings Draft Busts: Laquon Treadwell

Pick: 23rd overall in 2016 NFL Draft

Last week we looked at one disappointing Vikings receiver who failed to fill the shoes of the star that the team traded away. This week, we look at another disappointing receiver. The Vikings weren’t looking to replace a departed star when they selected our next draft bust Laquon Treadwell out of Ole Miss in 2016. But they were looking to improve a passing attack that ranked 31st in the league in 2015. Treadwell looked the part, standing 6’2”, 221 pounds, and was a beast in his final college season, catching 82 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Unfortunately, Treadwell never translated into the NFL. Concerns about his speed before the draft (he ran a 4.64 forty-yard dash at his pro day) continued into the NFL as he struggled to get open in his rookie season. Many said that although he worked hard, it wasn’t always the smartest work, and he failed to grow his craft as a receiver. Head coach Mike Zimmer even said that Treadwell was “his own worst enemy.” By the end of his rookie campaign, Treadwell had a grand total of one catch for 15 yards.

Treadwell’s own performance wasn’t the only thing hurting him by the end of 2016. Minnesota native Adam Thielen had a breakout season, catching 67 passes for 967 yards and five touchdowns. Stefon Diggs had 84 receptions for 903 yards and three scores as well, and Treadwell quickly became a forgotten man in the receivers room.

The next three seasons didn’t do much to justify Treadwell’s first-round status. Every time it appeared that he might have figured things out, he would quickly shoot himself in the foot and ultimately make no progress. A sensational one-handed grab in 2017 against the Packers had fans thinking he had grown up. Later in the game, he got flagged for an avoidable personal foul penalty. In 2018, he scored his first career touchdown against the Packers. Later in the game, he let a perfect pass from Kirk Cousins bounce off his hands for an interception.

Before the 2019 season, Treadwell would be cut. Because of injuries, however, Treadwell was brought back three-and-a-half weeks later. He would only catch nine passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. After the 2019 season, he signed with the Falcons and officially ended his tenure with the Vikings. In four seasons, Treadwell racked up only 65 receptions for 701 yards and two touchdowns.

Other Draft Options: G Germain Ifedi, TE Hunter Henry, DT Chris Jones, CB Xavien Howard, RB Derrick Henry, WR Michael Thomas

The obvious miss here was that the Vikings could have had Michael Thomas instead of Treadwell as a straight-up position swap. In his first four seasons, Thomas caught 470 passes for over 5,500 yards and 32 touchdowns before injuries derailed his 2020 season (his stat line looked like Treadwell’s career stat line for those who are curious). However, I’m not sure Thomas’ attitude would have worked in a locker room with Diggs. Fortunately, Thielen turned into a hometown star as well, so looking back, the team could have actually gone an entirely different direction with the pick.

Ifedi isn’t perfect, but he would have been better than any guard not named Joe Berger since 2016 for Minnesota. Tight end wasn’t a pressing need, but trading back and getting Hunter Henry would have been more productive for the team. And maybe Xavien Howard wouldn’t have fit as a nickel corner for the Vikings like they got with Mackensie Alexander. 

But Chris Jones is one that, looking back, hurts. 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd appeared to be coming into his own in 2015, but a leg injury (and botched surgery) ended his career in 2016. Jones has become one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the NFL and could have been the final piece the Vikings needed (and still need) on the defensive line.

And no one really thought about it at the time, but Adrian Peterson was going into his tenth season and the team had no running game in 2016 when Peterson was injured. Derrick Henry has become one of the top running backs in the league, and even though the Vikings got Dalvin Cook in the following draft, any time you can replace a draft bust with a productive player, you can’t help but think about what could have been.

The Final Word on Laquon Treadwell

Much like the selection of Troy Williamson, the Treadwell pick felt like a desperation move. Three receivers had been selected ahead of Minnesota, including back-to-back picks right before the Vikings were on the clock. Instead of going and getting their guy, the Vikings let the teams ahead of them make their selections. And instead of trading down when their guy wasn’t available, the Vikings panicked and appeared to check a box off simply to check said box off.

It also shows just how quickly needs can change from one draft to another. If the Vikings knew exactly what they had at receiver prior to the draft, they could have explored other options and taken a best player available approach and moved down the board for someone like Chris Jones while also accumulating more picks. Instead, the Vikings tried and fill a need and it ended up not being as big of a need as they had envisioned going into the draft.