Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell is widely regarded as the top prospect at his position for the 2016 NFL Draft. Most every national pundit and draftnik rates Treadwell as WR1 in a class where WR2-10 are eminently debatable.
As an evaluator, I pride myself on forging my own opinion. I trust my own eyes and what I’ve learned in covering every draft since 2004. I’ve sat with scouts watching games and picked their brains as to what they were looking at, not just the “what” but the “why”. Former players have helped me greatly in scouting specific positions, too.
Yet I’m not immune to the groupthink, nor do I try to be. If many evaluators I trust and respect are all seeing the same things in a player, I feel like I should probably see it too. It might take a different viewing lens to find it, perhaps watching different games or studying the broader context of the performances.
So when I see everyone else trumpeting Treadwell, I’m inclined to find the spark in others’ eyes.
Except I don’t see it.
Sure, I note the obvious. He’s a very impressive physical specimen for the position at 6’2” and 212 rippled pounds. He blocks better than most tight ends. Hell, he blocks better than most right tackles. Strong hands and the ability to extend his long arms to make the difficult catch? Check…
Laquon Treadwell’s dope grab from yesterday! DoubleTap for more posts today!! (Vine by TOUCHDOWN) https://t.co/3fRmKcdO5A
— Emilio (@emihadad) February 20, 2016
A top, five-star recruit from Crete, IL (extreme southern Chicago hinterlands), the hype has been there for a long time. Ever since he took his wads of cash to Oxford, Treadwell has been hailed as a future, surefire NFL No. 1 wideout.
But I just don’t see it.
To me, Treadwell is like Chipotle. You know, the absurdly popular burrito restaurant where the lines stretch out the door while the adjacent Potbelly’s and Pei Wei’s have instant service? Where folks in my immediate family eat at least five meals a week, and hipsters boldly proliferate like bats to the cave at sunrise? Yeah, that Chipotle.
Except I don’t really like Chipotle.
Don’t get me wrong, Chipotle doesn’t suck. I’ll eat there without complaint. It beats the hell out of Taco Bell or those funky substances Jack In The Box calls tacos. I can’t even recall the last time I got food poisoning from eating Chipotle, and I’ve been at least twice since Halloween.
However, if I’m going out for a burrito, I’m not defaulting to Chipotle like the vast majority of Americans under 50. I strongly preferred Freebirds when I lived in Houston and I may or may not have scheduled an inordinately long layover at Hobby Airport so I could sneak out and score some last year. I may or may not be salivating and getting the withdrawal shakes writing this.
Bullritos had better salsa choices and tastier chips, not to mention free Wifi, so they were next on the pecking order. Juan Big Burrito in League City drew me in more than a few times too.
Now I live in West Michigan, where Qdoba is the prime competitor. I’m not really a big fan of theirs either, mainly because I despise liquid cheese products and their queso is apparently the big draw. We have a local Baja which is great, independent from the chain of the same name. Their parking lot is more of a deathtrap than the local Wal-Mart (tangential sidebar–why is every Wal-Mart parking lot designed by a sadistic, blind and clueless handicapped monkey?) so I don’t get there very often. I like the Fat Burrito here in Holland but my God is that place aptly named!
These are all burrito places I prefer to Chipotle. When I tell most people that, they look at me like I just admitted to keeping a girl in a pit. I get those same virtual looks when I reveal my lack of love for Treadwell as a prospect.
I like Corey Coleman’s upside better, even if he doesn’t actually run routes, never blocks and makes Eric Ebron seem like Steve Largent when catching the ball. The concept of what Coleman could be greatly exceeds Treadwell’s ceiling, even if the odds of occurrence are about as high as Adam Sandler ever producing a movie not aimed at 14-year-old boys or the men who long to be one again. He’s the atomic fire sauce that either explodes into greatness in your mouth or leaves you with second-degree burns.
I prefer Sterling Shepard’s precision, competitiveness with the ball in the air and ability to create after the catch. His agility and short-area burst are a jaguar to Treadwell’s capybara, even though the latter is darn near impossible to stop with a full head of steam.
The Michael Thomas from Ohio State, the one who showed enough in college to merit a Combine invite and not everyone’s favorite sleeper/snub from Southern Miss, is about the same size as Treadwell but is better at making contested catches and most certainly runs faster, both off the line and in open spaces. He’s better at making catches below his waist and finding the end zone, too…
Treadwell last 2 years:
196 targets, 12 drops, 131 catches, 16 TD
Michael Thomas last 2 years:
157 targets, 5 drops, 110 catches, 18 TD
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 12, 2016
Braxton Miller showed off moves during Senior Bowl week that would snap Treadwell’s leg once again if he tried them. For a 215-pound player to move with agility like that, you have to be intrigued…even if he isn’t a natural catcher and has only played the position for a year. As with Coleman, the upside dwarfs my perceived ceiling with Treadwell.
To me, Treadwell is Chipotle. He’s a largely reliable, satisfactory meal that many people are a little too overzealous in touting. But I just don’t get the sense that he’s something special. Everything I like about Treadwell, I can find another guy who offers the same entrée but with the chance that the overall menu is more diverse and complete.
I believe too many people are pre-programmed to love Treadwell. From the recruiting hype to the glorious de-cleating blocks to the outstanding one-handed catches and the way he treats pressing corners like Hulk Hogan does a tank top, it’s easy to fall in love with all that is good with Laquon Treadwell.
But as so many sycophants stand in line shoegazing at Chipotle, I think there are better choices out there that too many are too unwilling to try. This is where the herd mentality, the dreaded groupthink, becomes a real problem. Everyone has eaten at Chipotle so many times that it’s just the default, as Treadwell has become the default top wideout in this class.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Be bold. Try a local taqueria or a different national burrito joint. If you’re stuck sharing an Uber to Chipotle with a sweater-wearing colleague sporting $600 glasses, at least try and order something different. If you’re a carnitas guy, go for the chicken and this time add the veggies. If you normally get Sofritas, well, I can’t help you…
Think about why you really like Laquon Treadwell. Is it just because you feel obligated? Because so many in the upper realms of draft media–the guys who probably still haven’t seen Roger Lewis or Quinshad Davis play a single snap yet–have touted him as the best since last August?
If you arrive at the conclusion that Treadwell is indeed your perfect burrito, that’s great. Chipotle grew into ubiquity for good reason. Just don’t expect to see me standing behind you in that line.