With the 2016 draft season underway, Sam Monson will open up his Analysis Notebook once again to share an in-depth evaluation of one top prospect each week. This week, we’ll explore the strengths, weaknesses and bottom-line scouting report for Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Laquon Treadwell is one of the marquee names in the upcoming draft, and many consider him to be the best receiver available. He certainly looks the part at 6-2 and 210-pounds, and this past season he caught 82 passes for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, Treadwell is not considered PFF’s top-rated receiver, and there are concerns to his game that many seem to gloss over.
He ended the season 19th in the nation among receivers in PFF's college grades, jumping only as high as 13th if we narrow it to this year's draft class.
That isn’t necessarily a bad place to be – it’s only marginally behind Corey Coleman of Baylor in grading terms, and just above Michael Thomas of Southern Miss and Leonte Carroo of Rutgers. However, the point remains that his grades do not reflect his overall reputation for a potential top-five selection in the draft.
What he does well
Treadwell does two things very well, and a couple more things pretty well. Both of his best traits are on evidence in this play against Alabama. Working against Cyrus Jones – no slouch as a cornerback – Treadwell defeats contact near the line, wins the hand fighting and gains position down the sideline before going up over the defensive back to win the jump ball.
Those are the two separate traits that stood out in Treadwell’s game: the ability to defeat press/contact on release and the ability to win jump balls.
A receiver of Treadwell’s size but relative lack of blazing speed and quickness often saw press coverage at the line. Players tried to disrupt his route on release, screw up the timing of the pattern and generally attempt to make him an easier proposition to cover before he really got going. Treadwell consistently defeated this contact with minimal problems and showed an excellent ability to use his hands and shake any attempt at jamming him.
He also does consistently well after the catch. He isn’t a particularly elusive player with the ball in hand, but he is strong and breaks tackles with regularity. Of all his receiving yardage, 446 yards of it came after the catch, and he broke 17 tackles over the season averaging 5.4 yards per reception after the catch.
Take this play as an example in the first week of the season. Treadwell turns this into a first down, breaking three tackles along the way to do it before stepping out of bounds inside the five.
Treadwell also gets a lot of plaudits for his blocking, which I think is a little warped by some highlight reel hits he delivers. Treadwell is a good, not great blocker. He is definitely willing and capable, which beats most receivers on the perimeter, but he has an unusual quirk to his game that I haven’t really seen before which leads to some de-cleating hits. Treadwell sticks to his man well, but his eyes are always elsewhere looking for a potential second block he can pick up that won’t see him coming.
I haven’t seen another receiver look for this type of block as regularly as Treadwell does – it is all over his tape. Here he is blocking on the edge against Auburn, and while he has his man in good position, he has his eyes inside on a chasing defender, about to leave his guy and crack back inside on a guy who just isn’t expecting it. It’s a smart play: the running back is undoubtedly better off one-on-one versus a corner heads up than trying to shake a linebacker or safety coming from the correct angle to make the tackle, but they do make easy blocks look like crushing highlights simply because of the nature of the hit.
He is a good blocking receiver, but those hits flatter him.
Where he struggles
There is a lot to like about Treadwell, but he does struggle to separate, even in college. He has the movement skills of a big receiver, but at his size he’s not large enough that it should be preventing him getting open regularly. Often getting separation looks like a struggle and there are too many plays where he doesn’t just struggle to separate, but actively fails in his route to the defensive back.
Here he again defeats the jam at the line of scrimmage, but can’t run away from the defensive back at any point during the route. Treadwell can’t shake his man running down the sideline or when he cuts the route off and tries to convert to a comeback.
Treadwell consistently separates far less than most of the receivers in this class. Watching his tape shows a player that relies more on his physicality than getting open in the first place, which is fine for a receiver in college that is already a team’s go-to guy, but in the NFL may result in the ball simply not being thrown his way nearly as often.
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.
The last issue I have with Treadwell is that for all his ability to win jump balls and take the football away from defensive backs, he doesn’t actually go for them all that often. He allows passes to come to him at times where he should attack the ball and make sure of the catch, rather than wait on it and allow the defender back into the play.
Sometimes it works out and he gets away with it – like this play against Oklahoma State in the bowl game. Treadwell shouldn’t be allowing this ball to drop to him, but rather elevating above the defender to go and get it at its highest point. This is what separates a guy like Odell Beckham Jr, who attacks the football better than most receivers in the NFL. Treadwell all too often elects to try and create a bucket into which the pass can drop, rather than actively going to get the ball higher than the defensive back can.
The bottom line
There is a lot to like about Treadwell, but there are also enough flaws in his game to keep him away from the very highest picks of this draft in my eyes. He is a talented receiver with the ability to win jump balls, make things happen after the catch and win subtle hand-fighting battles in routes and to gain small separation down field. He also blocks well, if not quite as well as some would have you believe.
His issue though is that he won’t separate regularly, and doesn’t actually take advantage of his ability to win contested catches as much as he should do. Treadwell reminds some of Dez Bryant or Michael Irvin, but to me he looks far more like Kenny Britt. Britt has had success at times in the NFL and was a first-round pick himself, so that’s not necessarily a disaster. He was taken with the 30th selection of the draft, in part because of exactly the same concerns over being able to separate. In my opinion, Treadwell is far closer to that area of the draft than a top-five pick.