The Vikings went into the 2016 draft intent on finding a big receiver they could install as a go-to target for Teddy Bridgewater. Their pre-draft pursuit centered on two players: TCU’s Josh Doctson and Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell.
General Manager Rick Spielman watched Treadwell at Mississippi’s pro day, and the receiver later made a pre-draft visit to the team’s facility. Both Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer were at TCU for Doctson’s pro day, with Zimmer lined up across from Doctson in a press coverage drill.
“[He’s] fast, got good suddenness, catches the ball well, good size,” Zimmer said when asked about his evaluation of Doctson before the draft. “Good kid.”
After the Cleveland Browns selected Baylor’s Corey Coleman (another receiver in whom the Vikings had shown some pre-draft interest) with the 15th pick, the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans swapped the 21st and 22nd picks, with Houston taking Notre Dame’s Will Fuller at 21 and Washington taking Doctson at 22. Rather than moving up, the Vikings opted to stay at No. 23, where they selected Treadwell.
As Treadwell and Doctson meet at FedEx Field on Sunday, the jury is still out on which receiver will be the better pro. Both had disappointing rookie seasons, with Treadwell catching one pass and Doctson playing just two games because of an Achilles’ injury. In Year 2, Treadwell has one more catch than Doctson (12 to 11), but the Redskins receiver has made more big plays, averaging 17.2 yards per catch and laying out for a 38-yard reception on the Redskins’ game-winning TD drive on Sunday in Seattle.
“I think we’re just getting started to seeing how good he is and how much production he will have for us,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He hasn’t had a great deal this year, but you can see the big-play capabilities.”
That’s one area where Doctson had the edge on Treadwell in college, too, and so far in the NFL, Treadwell has two catches for 20 yards or more. Case Keenum threw an interception on a jump ball intended for Treadwell on Oct. 22, and Keenum’s other interception was on a pass to Treadwell in London on Oct. 29, though the quarterback found Treadwell for a 21-yard gain to set up a field goal just before halftime.
Bothered by nagging injuries as a rookie while still trying to fully recover from the broken leg he suffered as a junior at Mississippi, Treadwell struggled to break through as former undrafted free agent Adam Thielen vaulted ahead of him in the Vikings’ offense.
This year, Treadwell has slowly started to make an impact. He credited his improvement this week to the fact he’d heeded Zimmer’s advice and learned to pull back on his workload.
“I feel like my coaches know best,” he said. “They’ll always tell you the truth. When they told me that, I took it for what it was, and I stopped. I’m playing better, I feel better and I’m in a better mood, coming to work. It’s helped me a lot. I put more time, instead of working out, into the film, and it’s been helping.”
Treadwell said he’s cut back on lifting weights, and he’s curtailed the number of days he’s on the field long after practice, catching passes from a Jugs machine. Instead, he’s devoted more time to studying the nuances of the game, which is where the Vikings wanted him to improve as a rookie.
“When I first came, there’s giants and super-freaks on the team, and I’m just like, ‘I’ve got to work,’ ” Treadwell said. “It’s the complete opposite, though. Everybody here does a great job of taking care of their bodies, and that’s what I’ve learned [is] the difference from college to now: The recovery is more than the work.”
Asked about the first half of his season, Treadwell gave himself a C.
“It was all right,” he said. “I know I can do a lot more, and I pride myself on doing a lot more: blocking more and just doing more to help the team. I can do better, a lot better, and I’m looking forward to the second half.”
Both the Vikings and Redskins have enough receiving options that neither team is completely dependent on its 2016 first-round pick breaking out in the second half of 2017.
But as both teams jockey for playoff positioning, Doctson and Treadwell will try to give their respective offenses a timely boost.
“I don’t compete against other guys; I compete against the defense,” Treadwell said. “Me and Josh Doctson, we’re close friends. We’ve got the same trainer, and he’s been doing well. I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to make plays.”
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @GoesslingStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org