MANKATO, Minn. -- For a moment, the Minnesota Vikings saw everything they could have hoped for. On two separate occasions, their 2016 first-round draft choice got down the field and behind the defense. One play came on what appeared to be a deep post. The other was a go route down the left sideline.
Both times, quarterback Sam Bradford spotted receiver Laquon Treadwell. Big plays seemed imminent. Bradford, of course, set an NFL record last season by completing 71.6 percent of his passes. It was reasonable to expect him to hit his target. He fired the ball downfield, putting plenty of air under each throw.
The surrounding crowd tensed in anticipation. Everyone assumed that like most most top-end NFL receivers, Treadwell would shift into the next gear, run under the ball and sprint to the end zone.
Alas, Treadwell could not catch up to either ball. They fell to the ground just beyond his outstretched arms. Did Bradford simply overthrow him? Or did Treadwell confirm the biggest blemish on his scouting report from 2016, proving he lacked the breakaway speed necessary to fulfill expectations as a first-round draft choice?
At this point, the answer is a matter of subjective judgment. Bradford said, fairly, that it takes time to learn where to put the ball on different routes for particular receivers. He and Treadwell got minimal work last season as Treadwell battled a foot injury and rarely worked with the first team.
It should also be noted that while Bradford set a league record in accuracy in 2016, his success on deeper throws was more moderate. He ranked 15th in the NFL on passes that traveled at least 30 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing 31.3 percent of throws. (The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees led the league in that category at 54.5 percent.)
"On both of those types of plays," Bradford said, "he did a great job getting behind the defense. It's just me giving him an opportunity to make a catch. It's one of those things working through those deep balls, working through the eight [routes], the nine [routes], everything downfield. Just trying to figure out what the trajectory those balls need to be on. I think it's a little bit different with each guy, and it's just part of developing chemistry."
To be fair, Treadwell has demonstrated his strength in a number of other instances, making tough catches on intermediate routes even against well-positioned defenders. The Vikings clearly view him as one of their top three receivers, along with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Minnesota is relying on Treadwell to produce in 2017, particularly with veteran Michael Floyd set to serve a four-game suspension to start the season. He has worked with the first team for nearly the entire camp, although he did step out for a sideline cooldown after tussling with defensive back Antone Exum on Monday.
"I think he's come a long way just from what I've seen from when I got here to this point this year," Bradford said. "Obviously, he's big. He's physical. He's got strong hands. It seems like he does a really good job at making contested catches when he has the opportunity. It's nice to have a guy like that to put in the back side and know you can throw it into some tight windows, and know he can come down with it."
A week into the veteran's portion of training camp, it seems clear that Treadwell is positioned to contribute more than he did during his one-catch rookie season. What will the enhanced production look like? We know he'll catch his share of mid-range passes. Can he break off the occasional big one, a fair expectation for a first-round pick? That remains to be seen.