A contemporary Canadian poet by the name of Aubrey Graham once penned the line:
“buzz so big I could probably sell a blank disk”
I cannot recall a more perfect application of this lyric than to the NFL draft status of Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell; the hype around him seems to have reached a point where his on-field production is considered borderline-irrelevant. For a few reasons, I think this could be a dangerous train of thought.
That said, there are some encouraging data points for Treadwell too. Let’s take a look under the hood at this complicated, highly-coveted receiver prospect in advance of this weekend’s marquee matchup against Alabama.
In 2013, in his first full season as head coach of Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze surprised the college football world by landing the fifth best recruiting class in America. Central to this class were three five-star prospects: DE Robert Nkemdiche, OT Laremy Tunsil and WR Laquon Treadwell. For a program that has seen one(!) receiver surpass 1,000 yards in its 122-year history, the arrival of Treadwell carried tremendous importance.
After a debut campaign in 2013 that saw him earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors, the 6-foot 2-inch 210-pound prospect was the go-to-receiver as the 2014 Rebels raced out to a 7-0 start and a top-three ranking. Then, the party came to an abrupt halt as Treadwell severely injured his leg while attempting to score the game-winning touchdown against Auburn.
The NFL Comparisons
Healthy for the 2015 season, Treadwell is widely regarded as first-round prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft and seen as “the next big thing” at WR. But is that warranted? To get a sense of how Treadwell’s college résumé compares to the NFL’s current stars at the position, I asked Twitter who they thought he was most similar to and the feedback included Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, AJ Green and Julio Jones. Here is how their college careers compare. Note that the trendline is representative of what 150-point fantasy receivers (basically, WR1 types) were doing in terms of market share of yards during their college career.
The good news for Treadwell is that he got a much earlier start to his college playing career than anybody else and was respectable, if not exceptional in that debut campaign. He was the only one of the five to make an impact in his age-18 season and one of three to contribute in his age-19 season. To be clear, being younger isn’t necessarily a good thing by itself, but rather it’s important to pay attention to the intersection of age and production. So far in 2015, his age-20 season, Treadwell has been curiously quiet (9-117-0) as the Rebels have exploded for 149 points and 716 pass yards in two games. Maybe he’s not fully confident in his repaired leg, or maybe the nature of Ole Miss’ blowout wins have led to unusual utilization.
The bad news, in my opinion, for Treadwell is that despite his buzz he’s never really been that dominant in college. Yes, his age-19 season was close to the line, but he hasn’t truly pieced together an elite season like what Dez, Julio, AJ and Demaryius did at least once in their college careers. Which leads us to the question: “If a player never truly dominates in college, why should we believe that they can miraculously evolve into a dominant force in the NFL?”
By way of illustration, I’d like to share with you a list of every first-round receiver since the 2005 NFL Draft who failed to dominate at any point in their college career. To quantify this, I’m looking for how many of the 42 first-round receivers failed to post a season above 30 percent market share of their team’s receiving yards.
|WR||School||Draft||Peak College MS Yards|
|Phillip Dorsett||Miami FL||2015||26.8%|
|Kelvin Benjamin||Florida St||2014||22.9%|
|Ted Ginn||Ohio State||2007||28.4%|
|Anthony Gonzalez||Ohio State||2007||26.2%|
That’s not to say that 30 percent market share is some kind of magical threshhold, but it is pretty rare – in a troubling way – to find a first-round receiver who didn’t surpass it at some point in their career. Basically, it’s kind of like dancing with the devil to count on receivers who were not dominant in college to develop into workhorse NFL receivers.
For Treadwell to emerge as a truly elite prospect in my mind, his 2015 campaign should look something like: 35 percent market share of receiving yards, 1,100 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns.
Assuming this is his final season, that would put Treadwell in the ballpark with other three-and-done 20 year olds like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and DeAndre Hopkins, who were all selected in the first round.
Anything much less than that, however, and I think Treadwell would be over-drafted and have a much more fuzzy career outlook, perhaps like a Dorial Green-Beckham or a Cody Latimer. I can’t wait to watch Treadwell against Alabama this weekend to see if he can start to piece together a string of strong performances.