Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell in group of high-profile rookies in need of turnaround

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

When Laquon Treadwell was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in April, general manager Rick Spielman talked about finding a player at the perfect intersection of need and talent. The Vikings badly needed a second option at wide receiver. And when Treadwell, once considered a top-10 pick, tumbled all the way down to the 23rd selection, it felt like circumstance breaking in Minnesota’s direction.

As Spielman said the morning after the selection, “He’s definitely someone that not only fit the best player available on our board, but also fit the bill as a top need for us as well.”

Rookie Laquon Treadwell hasn’t seen much playing time this season. (Getty Images)
Rookie Laquon Treadwell hasn’t seen much playing time this season. (Getty Images)
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Six-plus months later – and eight games into his NFL career – Treadwell finally has a catch. His first NFL reception went for 15 yards against a poor Detroit Lions secondary. It came during a season-high 17 plays and is notable in that it accentuates a puzzling and disappointing start. But also one where some creeping concerns about his draft film are apparently playing out in practice. Midway through the NFL season, Treadwell has easily become one of the most puzzling and frustrating first-round picks in the league.

Here’s the problem, from two sources familiar with the Vikings and close to departed offensive coordinator Norv Turner: Treadwell is a high-end athlete who is struggling to get open. He hasn’t figured out how to consistently separate from defensive backs in practice and that’s a big reason why he’s not getting onto the field. Like many rookie receivers, his conditioning was not where it needed to be initially, and his effort in practice and dedication to minute details at his position were lacking early on. While some of that has improved, Treadwell is still encountering problems playing to his size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and considerable athleticism.

What’s interesting about that evaluation is that it’s not very far removed from some of the criticisms of Treadwell during the run-up to the NFL draft. As personnel men became more familiar with him, they saw a player with size who struggled to employ his speed in a way that consistently created openings. He used his size in college, but was criticized as being a player who didn’t always attack balls thrown in his direction. By the end of the scouting combine, a handful of scouts told Yahoo Sports that Treadwell was, at best, a possession receiver who was unlikely to mature into a dominant No. 1 wideout.

The Vikings have attempted to resolve some of the effort and focus issues – and avoid having Treadwell completely inactive – by mixing in some special teams work over the course of the season. He has also had to watch Adam Thielen eat up playing time that was earmarked for Treadwell when he was drafted. While Thielen’s rise this season has been worthy of respect, he’s been more of a serviceable utility wideout than an impact second receiver who can open up the offense and take pressure off Stefon Diggs.

At least one thing appears to be clear as the second half of the season begins for the rookie: Turner was something of an impediment for Treadwell seeing the field. Pat Shurmur took the reins at offensive coordinator and put Treadwell onto the field for those 17 snaps, which accounted for more plays than Treadwell’s previous seven contests combined (including inactives). That change begs the question: Was Treadwell one of the details in which the former offensive coordinator wasn’t on the same page with the rest of the staff?

It will be interesting to see where Treadwell’s playing time and performance go from here, particularly considering the Vikings saw Diggs blossom after a slow start last season. It wasn’t until a Charles Johnson injury got Diggs a more advanced look, and then Minnesota made him a staple of the offense coming out of the Week 5 bye in 2015. Part of the knock on Diggs was also his focus and dedication to the nuances of his position, too. The key difference, though, is Diggs was seen as a player in college who could create separation when he was dialed in.

It remains to be seen if Treadwell will ever be that kind of player, or if he’s destined to be the next Nelson Agholor, the 2015 first-round pick of the Eagles who is still struggling to consistently get open on the NFL level. Until that’s answered, Treadwell will remain one of the most perplexing first-round rookies of this season, and maybe beyond.

Here are three other players from this year’s class who are in the running for the most befuddling first-round picks from the 2016 draft …

Robert Nkemdiche is in the doghouse. (Getty Images)
Robert Nkemdiche is in the doghouse. (Getty Images)

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona Cardinals

The guy many in the NFL saw as a first-round talent with the highest bust potential surely hasn’t done anything to quell those criticisms. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury early in the season, but at the midway point of the season he has one tackle in three games. He is as buried in the Bruce Arians doghouse as it gets – and the head coach has made no excuses for it, taking various shots at Nkemdiche for his practice habits, effort and focus. Arians is like that when a player isn’t giving him what he wants. But with Nkemdiche already being labeled as a guy who wasn’t mentally tough coming out of college (and maybe didn’t love football all that much), this one continues to have disaster written all over it.

Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens

Stanley has had some injury issues and a few horrific games this season, leading to some fair questions about whether Laremy Tunsil might have been the better pick after all. To be fair, the two players aren’t playing the same position at this stage (Tunsil is at guard with the Miami Dolphins). It should also be noted that offensive linemen always have a monumental adjustment to make on the NFL level. Some of the best have suffered through some terrible rookie seasons. For many good offensive tackles, the timeline can be similar to quarterbacks, with each offseason representing a step forward. That said, Stanley is going to have plenty to work on in the second half of the season. His blocking at times has been among the worst in the NFL. Some tackles get off to terrible starts like this and never recover. The second half of the season – and any progress or lack of it – might suggest whether Stanley ends up falling into that group.

Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

If you haven’t heard the Jeff Fisher mantra of “he’s not ready yet” by now, you’ve been living under a rock. If Goff had been taken at the back of the first round (a la Paxton Lynch) instead of the very front, this wouldn’t even be a conversation. There’s a multitude of factors that have cranked up the questions surrounding Goff. Not only did the Rams trade a heavy ransom to move up and draft him, they took him over Carson Wentz, who has had some solid success this season. Perhaps most puzzling is that starting quarterback Case Keenum has a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio (9 to 11), has fumbled five times and led the Rams to a 3-5 record. While Fisher has said Keenum is more equipped to lead the Rams to the playoffs this season, there seems to be a tradeoff when it comes to the long-term picture. But it’s also wise to believe Fisher when he says Goff isn’t ready. How unprepared he is won’t be fully understood until he steps under center in the regular season. Which might be why he hasn’t done so – because his developmental timeline is as bad as the indications seem. Whatever the reason, the microscope on Goff will be monumental whenever he gets his chance. Right now, something is still not right with Goff’s game. And the results will speak volumes about the wait.

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