Former Ole Miss wide receiver isn't sweating the uncertainty the NFL Draft brings

CHICAGO, Ill. — Laquon Treadwell has heard it all before.

The questions about his speed. The debates of whether he’s the top-overall wide receiver in the 2016 NFL Draft class ahead of Josh Doctson of TCU or Corey Coleman of Baylor. But Treadwell isn’t sweating the buildup to Thursday night, when he’ll finally hear his name called in the Auditorium Theatre in Grant Park and get to walk the draft stage and meet commissioner Roger Goodell with the hat and jersey of the NFL team that finally takes a chance on him. 

“I don’t even worry about it,” he said. “It’s already written. Someone’s already got you down for where you’re going. I can’t really stress about it. I’ve just got to accept where I go and make the most of it, honestly. Coming out of high school, you get to choose. Now, they choose you. Now you’ve got to make the most of your opportunity. You’re wanted by some team, and they’re picking you for a reason. You’ve got to do your best.”

Treadwell was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation’s most outstanding wide receiver) after leading the SEC in receiving with 1,153 yards last season. He was named All-SEC and received All-American honors. Ole Miss finished 10-3, including a blowout win over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.

But the draft process, at least for Treadwell, has been filled with headlines regarding his rather pedestrian speed for a wide receiver. He opted against running a 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February, instead choosing Ole Miss pro day, where he posted times of 4.65 and 4.63.

“I think he’s going to be a solid pro,” former NFL wide receiver turned NFL Network analyst Curtis Conway said. “For wide receivers, a system can make you or break you. A team can’t draft Laquon and expect him to be something different. You have to draft him understanding what he is, just like you can’t draft a Julian Edelman or a Wes Welker and expect him to do things that a Treadwell can do. That’s the big thing with me with him. I love the kid. I think he’s going to be phenomenal at the next level. I just hope he doesn’t get caught up in a system that doesn’t display who he really is and what his talents are.”

“I didn’t think the 40 was a big surprise,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “The 40’s always a concern when it surprises you. But I thought, when you watched him on tape, he played to that speed. I’ve had scouting buddies who’ve gone in there and everybody on the training staff tells you what he’s going to run. I don’t know if that hurt him. I don’t know if he was ever all the way up there as maybe some people expected. But he’s a really good player. He’s physical, he’s competitive. If you want someone to help you on third down in the red zone, he’s going to be that guy for you. I think he’ll end up going in the 20s. I think he’s the second-best receiver in this draft class. But if you had to say who’s going to have the most touchdowns in this draft class next year, I’d still put my money on him.”

Josh McCoy

Conway was a first round selection by the Chicago Bears in the 1993 NFL Draft. He played for the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers over his professional career, totaling 594 catches in 167 games for 8,230 receiving yards. He managed three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. 

Conway has Doctson as his No. 1 receiver. Not that he isn’t a fan of Treadwell, he just believes Treadwell, arguably the greatest receiver in Ole Miss history, needs to find the right fit.

“I think he needs to go somewhere like Houston, Cincinnati where they already have that guy who can stretch the field,” he said. “Now they’re asking him ‘OK, you don’t have to catch the 40-yard deep post, but you can catch that 20-yard fade route and use your body to make plays. We need you to go over the middle. We need you to use your physicality to do what we need you to do, versus we got to put you here and we need you to catch at least two deep balls a game.’ That’s not going to be him, unless somebody sleeps on him and tries to press him and he gets over the top. So a team where they already have a speed guy, that way the expectations aren’t as heavy on him for deeper balls.”

“How about A.J. Green in Cincinnati?” Jeremiah said. “He's not going to be somebody who’s going to be a big-yardage guy. I think he’s going to be a big catch-and-touchdowns guy. If you’re looking for someone who’s going to get you 1,400 yards, I don’t know if he’s going to be that, but he can get you nine, 10 touchdowns and do it in a limited amount of touches.”

A three-year Ole Miss starter from Crete, Ill., Treadwell is the all-time leading pass catcher in school history (202 receptions), and he’s projected by many experts to land anywhere within the top 20 or 25 picks.

He held pre-draft visits with no shortage of teams, from the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys to the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. 

“That’s the fun part,” Treadwell said of the uncertainty of where he’ll go. “That’s the amazing part of the draft. I don’t want to know. If I knew, that’d take the fun out of it. I don’t really look at the projections or who says what. Because at the end of the day, it’s about the team and the (general managers) and how they feel about the player. You’ve got to take it for what it is. Wherever I go, that’s when my job really starts. It’s not really about where you get drafted. It’s after that and providing and working hard and showing the coaches that you want to be there.”

Jeremiah currently pegs Treadwell as a mid-to-late first round selection, while Charles Davis and Lance Zierlein — also of and the NFL Network — cast him as a mid-first selection. Mel Kiper of ESPN recently forecasted Treadwell to the Vikings at No. 23.

“There’s 22-23-24 wide receiver needs right there, with Houston, Minnesota and Cincinnati,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Where I’m at on Treadwell and where I think a lot of the league is you either believe in the kid or not. The 4.65 is going to scare some people. I thought he was a 4.5, 4.55 guy on tape and I went back and watched it again after his pro day. So I’m not scared of his 4.65. I think he’s a hell of a football player. He’s physical. He’s tough. I think he’s going to go in the bottom third of the first round.”

“My favorite example is Anquan Boldin,” NFL Network analyst and former St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. “He’s very much like a Treadwell. OK, he’s not the fastest. He’s a bigger, stronger guy, but if you know how to play the game and you can catch the football at the wide receiver position and you understand how to use your body, to me, Anquan Boldin is a Hall of Fame player. He was never fast enough to play the wide receiver position, yet everywhere he goes, he’s the fastest player on the field and everywhere he goes, he’s the best receiver on the field. I’m going to take a football player that knows how to produce every single time, I just believe you have to be fast enough. Right? I mean, when’s the last time you saw the 4.3 guys make a big splash in the NFL. Every year we talk about the fastest guys in the combine, and every year when we get to the fall, where’s the fastest guy from the combine? They’re not the ones who are always producing.”

Again, though, Treadwell isn't thinking too much about the life-changing moment that’s soon to arrive. Rather, he’s enjoying the final hours of an opportunity that few get to experience. His future team can wait a little while longer. His dream is a reality already, made even more special by the fact he’s getting to spend his time in his hometown of Chicago. 

“It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “It’s been a long journey. Growing up, I had my struggles. Every kid probably in Chicago had struggles with the violence and many different obstacles they have to overcome. Losing friends every day; it happens every day here. I’ve been through a lot, even in football with my injury. Overall, in life, I’ve been through a lot, and I appreciate the people that’s here to support me and helped me grow and taught me along the way. That’s what it’s about to me, just giving back and telling the kids it’s possible. It’s all right to be different and separate yourself and learn and grow and become the person you want to become. It’s really bigger than me.”

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