When the Minnesota Vikings drafted wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round of last month’s draft, it shouldn’t have come as any major surprise – and not merely because Treadwell had been so deeply linked to the Vikings and the way the draft fell, three wide receivers were already off the board when the Vikings made their selection and many had Treadwell rated as the top wide receiver prospect.
What made the selection seemingly inevitable is that, when the Vikings look to use an early draft pick on wide receivers, they tend to lock and load on the Southeastern Conference.
The numbers since the Vikings took Nate Burleson of Nevada-Reno in 2003 have been relatively astounding. In the 13-year span since 2004, if the Vikings are going to use a high pick – somewhere in between the first and fourth rounds – you make bank that it’s going to be a receiver from the SEC that gets the call.
Every wide receiver they’ve taken with a high pick since Burleson in 2003 – and, of course, prior to him, a kid from Marshall named Randy – has come from the SEC. There must be something their scouts like about the wide receivers in the SEC because they’ve ignored every other conference in the early rounds to the SEC’s exclusive lock on the position.
It all got started about as badly as it could. In 2005, with the pick the Vikings received from Oakland in the trade that sent Randy Moss away, the Vikings used that pick (No. 7 overall) on Troy Williamson of South Carolina.
To say Williamson was a bust is giving garden variety busts a bad name. He was awful for such a high selection. A wide receiver without hand-eye coordination is almost as tragic as a pilot with the same affliction. It didn’t take long to realize the team had made a horrible mistake.
It would have turned some organizations off SEC wide receivers for decades. Not the Vikings.
Two years later, in 2007, when it was clear Williamson wasn’t going to work out, not only did the Vikings go back to the SEC, they went back to the “other USC” – drafting Sidney Rice from South Carolina in the second round.
To his credit, Rice was a solid receiver for the Vikings, especially when he was teamed up with Brett Favre. But his injury history caught up with him quickly and his career died in Seattle after leaving the Vikings.
In 2009, the Vikings didn’t have a front-burner wide receiver issue, but Percy Harvin from Florida fell to them in the first round and the Vikings were looking for playmakers. Few players in the 2009 draft exemplified playmaker more than Harvin.
He was electrifying, but, like Rice, he had left a lot of blood on the killing fields of the SEC. His NFL shelf was short, but very sweet – especially while with the Vikings. He, too, went to Seattle to die before officially ending his career in Buffalo.
The Vikings didn’t dip their ladle into the wide receiver punch again until 2012. That year, they doubled down on SEC receivers, selecting not only college teammates, but high school and middle school teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs from Arkansas in the fourth round.
Childs was going to be the big receiver the Vikings offense was lacking. The echoing screams from the north end zone of Blakeslee Field put an end to that when Childs went down with devastating double knee injuries in training camp. Wright is a fixture on the offense, already has a second contract in his pocket and is a quietly effective component of the ongoing Bridgewater Project.
Childs was supposed to be the red zone threat specialist the offense sorely lacked, so when his career was over before it really got started the Vikings went all-in in 2013, trading back into the first round for the rarely seen third first-round pick – getting back up into the first day to select Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee.
Had Patterson panned out as hoped, the need to take Treadwell may not have been as pronounced, but Vikings fans know how the Patterson Experiment has worked out.
Not only is it not surprising that the Vikings looked to the SEC to help solve their deficiencies at the wide receiver position, given their history over the last decade and more, it was almost inevitable that the team would once again dip into the SEC to find the answers to their issues at wide receiver.