After their options dwindled after a run on wide receivers, the Vikings were still able to come away with a big, physical pass-catcher for Teddy Bridgewater.
With the 23rd overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft Thursday night, the Vikings snagged Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who returned from a gruesome leg injury in 2014 to catch 11 touchdown passes last fall.
“When you watch him play, he has an edge to him,” General Manager Rick Spielman said after making the pick. “He’s a heck of football player and he loves to play the game. And those are the type of players we’re trying to get in here.”
Treadwell, whom many draft analysts tabbed as the top wide receiver in this class early in the pre-draft process, was the fourth wide receiver selected.
Baylor’s Corey Coleman was the first picked, going 15th overall to the Cleveland Browns. Soon, the wideouts were flying off the board.
The Houston Texans swapped picks with the Washington Redskins, moving up one spot to take Notre Dame’s Will Fuller at pick No. 21. The Redskins then jumped on TCU’s Josh Doctson before the Vikings were on the clock.
The Vikings, resisting offers to trade down, drafted Treadwell at No. 23.
Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, of course, would not say which of those four pass-catchers the Vikings preferred. But regardless, Treadwell, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, addresses their most glaring need — a split end with the size and wingspan to make contested catches deep and over the middle.
“We wanted to get a big receiver with a big catching radius,” Zimmer said. “We just felt that with this team, that was important for us, to get some size out there.”
Spielman attended Treadwell’s pro day and Treadwell was among the prospects the Vikings hosted at Winter Park for official visits earlier this month.
“From the day I went and visited the Vikings, from the first time I walked in and got off the bus, I knew it was a first-class organization. The men in that building really hold themselves to a high standard and they just do things the right way,” Treadwell said. “[Zimmer] really got personal with me. He told me if I was there at No. 23, they were going to draft me. I ended up being there.”
Despite the run of receivers starting before their selection, Spielman said the Vikings did not make any calls about trading up because “there were three or four players on our board with two picks left that we really liked.”
Spielman added: “I knew we were going to get a good football player.”
Treadwell, 20, broke his left fibula and dislocated his left ankle in November of 2014 during a nationally televised loss against Auburn. After catching a screen pass late in the game, Treadwell neared the goal line for a go-ahead score. But his leg snapped as an Auburn defender dragged him down from behind.
Treadwell missed the rest of that season. He returned in 2015 to play all 13 games, catching 82 passes and leading the SEC in receiving yards and touchdowns.
“That tells you what type of character he has, to come back from that devastating of an injury and to play at the level that he played last year,” Spielman said. “I expect that being a year removed from that heading into next year, he’s going to be that much better and he will definitely be back to his old form.”
Treadwell is the fourth wide receiver the Vikings have drafted in the first round since dealing Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders in 2005. Troy Williamson and Percy Harvin never became go-to receivers and Cordarrelle Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick, has 863 receiving yards in three seasons.
Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick last spring, led the Vikings as a rookie with 52 receptions in 2015. Mike Wallace, their other starting wide receiver last season, was released in February.
By picking Treadwell, they passed on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, a former college teammate of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks who dropped into the draft due to an existing knee injury, and Baylor nose tackle Andrew Billings.
As an alternative to taking a wide receiver, the Vikings might have also been interested in an offensive tackle with veterans Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt and Andre Smith all in the final year of their contracts. But the top four offensive tackle prospects were long gone before it was time for the Vikings to pick.
The Vikings are set to be back on the clock Friday night with the 54th overall selection in the second round. Their third-round pick is No. 86.