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A young, big-body receiver who'll be expected to step into a much bigger role in 2015, Broncos wideout Cody Latimer is creeping onto the fantasy radar as a potential dark horse. As part of a prolific offense headed by still-great-but-aging Peyton Manning, Latimer is giving off good value with an ADP of 172 overall according to Fantasypros. That means he's going later than guys like Terrance Williams, Pierre Garcon and Devante Parker. There's plenty of potential value to be had if fantasy owners take the leap and draft Latimer.
As a 2014 second-round pick, Latimer got lost in the shuffle due to lack of snaps last season. He finished his rookie year with a paltry two catches for 23 yards and saw only 3.7 percent of the team's overall snaps, falling victim to the adage that former Denver coach John Fox doesn't play rookie wide receivers much. But is that the only reason Latimer wasn't getting time on the field?
It appears there was more to it than that. Broncos.com reported Latimer wasn't buying in to the team's philosophy and 'mentally checked out' down the stretch of last season. It's not a good sign that a player couldn't make any noise in one of the league's most potent offenses much less a team that can contend for the Super Bowl. You would think a player would relish the opportunity to make such a big impact in his first season.
This alleged lack of motivation prevented Latimer from taking snaps away from veteran Andre Caldwell. Caldwell saw 54 percent of the team's snaps in Week 1 compared to Latimer's zero and Caldwell ended up seeing 16% percent of the teams overall snaps for the year, more than 4 times as much as Latimer. It just shows Latimer will need to adjust his mental approach to the game if he expects to play more in 2015.
While Latimer's subpar rookie year is a slight concern, there's still plenty of optimism to be had. Several wide receivers have bounced back after poor rookie showings. Most recently, Alshon Jeffery finished with just 24 catches in his rookie year before going on to post back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2013 and 2014.
What kind of player is he?
A quick receiver (4.4 speed) with average size hands and very good strength and vertical ability, Latimer compares to receivers like Braylon Edwards and Legedu Naanee, with the former having gone on to post a 15+ touchdown season in 2007 with the Cleveland Browns. Latimer finished his junior season with a 72/1,096/9 line while at Indiana, ranking 32nd in yards among all Division-I receivers. His numbers went up each year after his freshman season.
Standing at 6'3 with a thick 215 lb frame, Latimer possesses the strength (23 bench press reps) most receivers envy. His burst off the line isn't crazy explosive, but he runs routes fluidly and shows good ability to get in and out of his break on shorter routes. He has the mental awareness to find open pockets in the middle of the field and. is at his best when the ball is in the air.
He tracks balls well and can position his body in the right place where only he can make the catch. He shows very good body control when turning around on deeper routes down the sideline and his combination of strength and size allows him to box out defenders much like Mike Evans. He makes the transition from the catch to positive yardage quickly and his style of play fits perfectly with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, a QB that practically makes his living throwing the feathery deep fade down the sideline.
Overall, Latimer has the versatility to make an impact in the deep and short passing game.
Latimer is currently listed as a No. 4 wide receiver behind Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Caldwell. With Caldwell now 30 years old and given the investment the Broncos have made in Latimer as a second-round pick, it's likely Latimer finishes out as the No. 3 wide receiver after camp. This makes him a prime candidate for targets if he establishes some rapport with Manning.
To get an idea of how many targets Latimer could see, we can look at former Denver No. 3 receiver Wes Welker. Welker saw 64 targets last season and finished with 464 yards and two touchdowns. Another departed player who was a key component in the Bronco offense was tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas accounted for 60 targets, 489 yards and most importantly, 12 touchdowns. We've talked before about how Latimer can excel in the red zone, and no quarterback is better in the red zone than Peyton Manning. It's through this potential for touchdowns that we could see Latimer make his biggest leap. It's not out of the realm of possibility Latimer finishes with 6-8 scores this season and around 600 receiving yards with 60-70 targets.
It goes deeper. While the $70M Thomas is firmly cemented as the No. 1 guy, Latimer might start to eat into the workload of No. 2 WR Sanders. A wideout coming off his first-ever 1,000-yard season, Sanders is expected to see more time in the slot, making Latimer a candidate for outside duties. Sanders' ability to stretch the field via the deep ball is his greatest asset, but he lacks improvisational skills and tackle breaking ability. Despite finishing in the Top 5 in receiving yards last season, Sanders ranked 30th in yards after the catch (370). No receiver inside the Top 15 ranked lower.
Sanders' style of play meshes well with Manning due to Manning's arm strength. But with Manning likely on his last limb and the Broncos looking to the future, Sanders becomes less intriguing and the Broncos might start to look for a more versatile receiver to carry them into the next phase of the franchise. It would make sense for the Broncos to start slowly implementing their second-round pick into the offense a little more in 2015.
The current salary cap setup in Denver also benefits Latimer. Sanders is only owed a little less than $10 million over the next two seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Latimer is still on his rookie contract until 2017 and the Broncos would benefit hugely if they can develop him into a quality starter given his smaller deal.
His quarterback and his offense
There have been concerns about Manning at the quarterback position heading into 2015 given that he posted a 3:6 TD-to-INT ratio over the last four games before getting bounced out of the playoffs by Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Never one to divulge any information on his health, rumors swirled that Manning was dealing with a quadriceps injury that hampered him down the stretch. If you believe that Manning wasn't 100 percent, then you're probably more inclined to draft him this season than others are.
Plus, all signs point to you being correct. New coach Gary Kubiak has said Manning is still in terrific shape and his health doesn't appear to be an issue. At this stage of his career, Manning deserves the benefit of the doubt having gone through several neck surgeries and still going on to throw for career numbers just two seasons later.
When it comes to the offense, Manning will be taking more snaps under center than he did last season, which will put extra pressure on the offensive line to protect and also force Manning to relearn his footwork on 3 and 5-step drops. This should make Latimer a more valuable receiver since he excels in the shorter passing game.
Manning also has a history of spreading the ball around. In his last full season with the Colts back in 2010, No.3 receiver Austin Collie led the team in touchdowns with 8, two more than Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne. Collie also finished with 649 yards, a respectable total for someone who only started six games.
+ Catching passes from a future Hall of fame quarterback that is one of the best ever when throwing in the red zone
+ Plenty of scoring opportunities with the loss of scoring threat Julius Thomas
+ Good size and strength will help him be a valuable possession receiver
— Got beat out by Andre Caldwell during his rookie season, leaving some to question his mental toughness
— Little opportunity for big yards with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders playing over him
— Questions regarding the health of his quarterback
When you're drafting Latimer, you're looking at a player with a ceiling of 52/850/9 and a floor of 30/400/3. Latimer is what you would call a 'high variance' player at this stage of his career so he carries some risk. But with mental toughness concerns aside, his ADP value is still solid and the opportunity is there for him to make plays. He's a good value pickup late in drafts.