2016 NFL Draft: Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell Has Instant-Impact Potential

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2016 NFL Draft: Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell Has Instant-Impact Potential
Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

It used to be said that you couldn't fully evaluate a wide receiver until his third season in the NFL.

For years, it was one of the most difficult positions at which to make a smooth transition from college to the pros. 

Even Calvin Johnson, arguably the most physically talented receiver of the past decade, hauled in just 48 receptions as a rookie and didn't make his first Pro Bowl until his fourth year in the league. 

But that trend has changed dramatically in recent years.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, 18 rookies have hauled in at least 50 receptions over the past three seasons, an average of six per year. The previous 10 drafts produced just 32 such rookies, an average of roughly three per season. 

Part of this is due to the change in the game itself, as teams are throwing the ball more than ever. But that trend makes it all the more important to target polished receivers early in the draft. 

The 2016 draft class does not appear to filled with as many instant-impact receivers as recent years, but the best of the bunch is Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell

Let's take a look at a few reasons why he's built for immediate success and how his game translates to the NFL.

Contested Catches

Wide receivers who make the smoothest transition to the NFL are the guys who are always open due to their size and leaping ability. 

Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin is perhaps the best example of this. 

In 2014, Benjamin made an immediate impact despite his inconsistent hands and atrocious route-running technique. You can't teach size and athleticism, however, so the Panthers plugged Benjamin into a starting role and let Cam Newton toss him jump balls. 

Treadwell isn't on Benjamin's level as an athlete, but he makes up for that by being more polished in the fundamentals of the game. 

In this play against Florida, Treadwell shows off his ability to perfectly time his jump to high-point the ball, plucking it from the air above a Gators defensive back. This is purely a jump ball—and could easily be intercepted—but Treadwell's perfectly timed execution and strong hands turn it into an easy first down.

DraftBreakdown.com

On that play against Florida, Treadwell used his timing to win the battle. But he also shows the ability to use his physical strength to fight through coverage. 

At 6'2" and 210 pounds, Treadwell has the size to muscle his way through physical cornerbacks to get to the football. 

This play against Vanderbilt demonstrates Treadwell's physical strength and concentration, as he's knocked off his route but still manages to focus and come back to the ball. 

DraftBreakdown.com

The ability to handle physical cornerbacks will be critical to Treadwell's immediate and long-term success in the NFL. If he can consistently win these battles, he'll build up trust with his quarterback and establish a reputation as a receiver who is always open. 

Blocking Skills

This can be an underrated quality for receivers in terms of earning playing time in the NFL. 

Different coaches value a receiver's blocking to varying degrees, but there's no question it can help separate two receivers with otherwise similar skill sets. 

Blocking is an area in which Treadwell has consistently excelled. 

His technique isn't always perfect, but the effort is consistently there, which is more than half the battle with a lot of receivers. 

Treadwell has been linked to the San Francisco 49ers in many mock drafts this offseason, including ESPN's Todd Mcshay's, and head coach Chip Kelly has been known to favor receivers who are willing to contribute in this area of the game. 

In an offense similar to what Kelly runs, having a receiver with strong blocking skills helps due to the amount of quick-strike passes and screen plays. 

A young receiver in that type of offense may need to be pulled off the field in certain situations if he's lacking blocking skills. Treadwell, however, is proficient in that area and should be viewed as a receiver who can contribute in every situation. 

Lack of Speed

Treadwell does not have game-changing speed. That's an important fact to understand going into the NFL Scouting Combine so that it doesn't get counted twice. 

Even on tape, it's clear that Treadwell is not a threat to consistently get over the top of the defense. So when he runs a 4.5- or 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the combine, don't be shocked. And don't assume it will lead to him being dropped on draft boards.

We don't have to go back far to find another example of a receiver with moderate speed who found other ways to win in the NFL. 

In 2013, DeAndre Hopkins ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine. According to DraftInsider.net, he followed that up with a 4.52 at his pro day. 

After three years in the league, it's clear that Hopkins' lack of speed hasn't held him back. 

Predictably, Hopkins struggles to create separation down the field, but his elite hands and ability to battle for contested catches have turned him into one of the most dominant receivers in the league. 

Final Projection

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Obviously, the franchise Treadwell lands with will dictate his immediate projection. But a similar career path to Hopkins is certainly plausible. 

As the No. 2 receiver behind Andre Johnson, Hopkins caught 52 passes for 802 yards as a rookie before making a dramatic leap to 76 receptions and 1,210 yards the following year. In 2015, Hopkins reached elite status, eclipsing 1,500 yards. 

Hopkins serves as a great example for Treadwell because he's accomplished all this with inconsistent quarterback play, which underscores the importance of a receiver who can compete for the ball. 

Like Hopkins, Treadwell doesn't need to create separation, and he also doesn't need for the ball to be perfectly placed for him to have the best odds of coming down with the reception. 

Treadwell should land somewhere in the first round and will immediately be a weapon defenses need to account for on game day. 

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