(AP) The Minnesota Vikings had an obvious need at wide receiver. They filled it, literally, in a big way.
Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell was selected by the Vikings with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, giving a lagging passing attack a 6-foot-2, 221-pound target who led the SEC with 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
”We wanted to get a big receiver with a big catching radius. We just felt like with this football team it was important for us to get some size out there,” said coach Mike Zimmer. ”This guy’s a big, physical guy that little guys are going to have a hard time defending.”
Treadwell, the all-time leading receiver in Ole Miss history with 202 career catches, recovered from a gruesome ankle dislocation and broken fibula on his left leg that occurred while being tackled at the goal line in a game against Auburn on Nov. 1, 2014. Treadwell’s 40-yard dash time of 4.63 seconds at his on-campus pro workout day certainly gave other teams pause, but the Vikings weren’t deterred.
”We felt very strongly that he was one of the top receivers in this draft,” general manager Rick Spielman said. ”I think the 40 time may have knocked him some, but you have to go off what you see on tape.”
The speed will increase, the Vikings said, once Treadwell continues to put the injury further in the past.
”There’s nothing you can really rush,” Treadwell said. ”It just comes with time.”
Baylor’s Corey Coleman was the first wide receiver off the board, snagged by Cleveland at No. 15. Houston flip-flopped with Washington to take Notre Dame’s Will Fuller at No. 21, and then TCU’s Josh Doctson followed. Spielman said the Vikings fielded calls from four teams trying to trade into their spot, but he balked. The run of wide receivers left little guarantee they’d be able find a top-tier player at that position if they went lower.
Treadwell, then, became the highest selection by the Vikings at the position since Percy Harvin went at No. 22 in 2009. They also took a wide receiver in the first round in 2013, when Cordarrelle Patterson was the pick at No. 29. ”All the intangible things we were looking for,” Zimmer said, ”he was the one that stood out to us.”
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, whose injured right knee cut short his junior season and clearly raised red flags around the league considering his tumble through the first round, wasn’t picked in the first round. He could’ve formed a unique trio with fellow former Bruins linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Zimmer said the Vikings ”almost” went with a defensive player, declining to divulge his identity.
”I always fight for defense,” Zimmer said.
The offense needed more help, though. Treadwell was widely pegged as the top player at his position after the scouting combine, though Coleman, Doctson and Fuller were relatively even in most analyses.
”I won’t give you how they were rated, but I know we thought very highly of him,” Spielman said.
Treadwell, a Chicago-area native who was considered the best recruit in Illinois out of Crete-Monee High School in 2013, is still only 20 years old with a June 14 birthday. He didn’t appear to be disappointed by being the last of the four top wide receiver prospects selected.
”You always want to go as high as possible, so I was surprised,” Treadwell said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. ”But I just think I fell to the right spot. It’s just amazing to be a part of.”
The ”edge” that both Spielman and Zimmer praised was sharpened during Treadwell’s rehabilitation. He denied himself breakfast each day until he was finished with treatment on his leg.
Spielman compared Treadwell to Pro Football Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin and three-time Pro Bowl picks Anquan Boldin and Eric Moulds. The Vikings raved about Treadwell’s tenacity on the field, his ability to make catches in traffic and use his big body to his advantage.
”He is the best blocking receiver that I’ve ever seen,” Zimmer said.