Back in August, Laquon Treadwell held court following a training camp practice, telling several reporters that he’d seen the light. He’d learned from stars Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen how to “win” against NFL corners and spent this offseason focusing on technique and route running.
Through the first five games, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t need Treadwell to prove that he’d grown. They needed him to block and play decoy while Diggs and Thielen dominated.
But with Diggs out against the Packers, he was called upon to play a role in the passing game. He showed some of the growth he talked about in camp by coming up with his best career day: Three catches for 51 yards, including a one-handed grab that made every NFL highlight show.
“We’ve seen a few of those [in practice,” quarterback Case Keenum said. “He’s able to make miraculous catches like that, so to him it’s pretty normal. But to get that guy going is going to be a really good addition and somebody that’s going to be good for making plays down the field, so I’m excited that he made a couple plays and excited to see where he’s going to go.”
Plays like his sideline catch were the reason the Vikings selected Treadwell in the first round in 2016.
“I always try to stay mentally ready while other guys are making plays,” Treadwell said after the win over the Packers. “I knew my time would come. Just make the most of it.”
Now the Vikings will need him to contribute even more.
On Wednesday, Diggs and Michael Floyd both missed practice, leaving Treadwell as the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Thielen. If they can’t play against Baltimore on Sunday, he will step into the limelight against a passing defense that has allowed the fourth worst passer rating in the NFL – a team that’s likely to adapt to some of the things the Vikings have done well with Keenum under center.
Against Chicago and Green Bay, the Vikings’ passing game was able to survive on throws to Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph as well as screen passes to running backs.
Thielen has proven to be unstoppable over the last two seasons and Rudolph is reliable as they come for tight ends, but if the Ravens take away any one of those weapons, Treadwell becomes especially valuable.
That’s the short term view.
Big picture, the game against the Ravens could be make or break if Diggs and Floyd are out.
The spotlight has been on Treadwell since the beginning of last season when he did not appear in the Vikings’ opening game and didn’t make his first career catch until the team’s eighth game – his only reception of the season.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has supported his 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver, saying last year that he appreciated Treadwell’s ability to get in and out of routes and saw him as a hard worker.
Now that he’s needed, that support will only go as far as Treadwell’s production. If the ex-Ole Miss star proves to be a viable receiving option, the Vikings will feel set at the receiver position for a long time. Struggles to make an impact, however, could result in this being his final year in purple.
The Vikings do have a contingency plan at receiver in case Treadwell can’t effectively step in. They appear to have found a skilled receiver in the seventh round with former Miami Hurricanes star Stacy Coley. He stood out in training camp and preseason with his route-running and ability to make plays downfield. And Jarius Wright has proven multiple times over his career that he can be a solid role player when called upon.
But the Vikings would certainly rather see their 22-year-old receiver step up to the challenge.