Laquon Treadwell will have his chance to prove Mike Zimmer right.
On several occasions this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach has sung the praises of the club’s 2016 first-round draft pick, who made just one catch on three targets in his debut season.
“He looks good,” Zimmer said during OTAs. “His stopping and starting, some of the routes he’s been running as far as when he has to come back…when he has to accelerate over the middle, inside breaks in routes, and you guys saw him catch the deep ball the other day. I think his game has expanded, I think he’s so much more comfortable now than he was a year ago.”
With news on Friday that veteran Michael Floyd will miss the first four games due to a suspension for a DUI incident in December, Treadwell will get an opportunity to step into the spotlight in training camp and earn a significant role.
Zimmer mentioned multiple times last season that Treadwell hadn’t mastered route depths, which caused a lack of trust between the former Ole Miss star and quarterback Sam Bradford.
In June, Zimmer said that Treadwell has improved that area of his game.
“I think he’s developing a trust with the quarterback,” Zimmer said. “That’s most important, that trust with receivers, that they can get the right depth and be in the right place.”
Route depths might not have been the only factor that played into Treadwell seeing just 80 offensive snaps in Year 1. Late in the season, Zimmer eluded to an injury issue with with the 22-year-old receiver’s feet which may have slowed down his progress – though some have also voiced concerns about how well he’s adapted to the NFL.
Early on in OTAs, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said he’d seen noticeable improvement in Treadwell’s ability to grasp the mental elements of the game.
“When we came back, he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally,” Shurmur said in late May. “He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball, understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”
Treadwell will face plenty of competition for Floyd’s spot in the offense. The Vikings’ fifth-round pick Rodney Adams, who was an impressive playmaker in college, has already made a strong impression. Veteran Jarius Wright is looking to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff after seeing his playing time diminished last year and seventh-round pick Stacy Coley, a speedy slot receiver from Miami, and former Minnesota Gopher Isaac Fruechte will also push for a place on the roster.
Treadwell has a leg up on his competitors because of his first-round talent, but Zimmer has proven in the past that draft status doesn’t matter toward playing time. The Vikings’ two top receivers are Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick, and Adam Thielen, who was undrafted.
Performing at a high level in Mankato will be Step 1 for Treadwell to prove the offseason hype was justified.