Opportunity. In life, it's those individuals who make the most of an opportunity when it's given to them, that are usually among those whom eventually go on to become the most successful in their endeavors. And after a very strong finish to his 4th NFL season in 2017, current free agent and Denver Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer is the latest player entering 2018 NFL Free Agency next month, to do exactly just that.
Latimer, who was originally drafted by Denver in the 2nd Round of the 2014 NFL Draft, was essentially "buried" on the Broncos WR depth chart behind star WR's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, which resulted in his limited snaps on offense. But he ended the 2017 season year on a high note, as he emerged by far and away as the club's best #3 wideout.
The 6-foot-2, 215 pound former University of Indiana Hoosiers star set career highs with 19 receptions for 287 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, while remaining a premier special teams contributor. Nevertheless, some analysts still consider the 25-year old Latimer to be a "bust" — due to his lack of production thus far in 4 years of playing in the NFL.
Latimer has struggled while battling injuries and inconsistent performances. He just hasn’t been a big part of the offense for the Broncos, as evidenced by the fact that he only caught 16 of 30 targets for 158 yards and one touchdown during that span.
But things changed last year near the end of the 2017 regular season, after he received an increase in playing time with the Broncos (who finished with a 5-11 record) already eliminated from Playoff contention.
Latimer was targeted a career high 31 times; and although he still wasn’t 'heavily' involved in the offense, by the end of 2017 Latimer had began to establish himself as the primary slot receiver, in addition to being an important blocker on offense and special teams.
As of this very moment, Denver is faced with the prospect of losing either Thomas or Sanders to Free Agency as well, and they aren't counting on production from last year's rookies and now soon-to-be 2nd year WR's Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie. Which is likely why it would make sense for the Broncos to re-sign Latimer, who last season in the final year of his original rookie contract, earned $927,000.
But Latimer is expected to test the open Free Agent market first — and with ZERO guarantees at the moment that the Saints plan on bringing back either #3 WR Brandon Coleman or #4 WR Willie Snead, the possibility exists that New Orleans could be where he ultimately decides to make his next destination.
Some Saints fans may recall that Latimer had dreams of playing in the NBA as a youngster, and didn't even play football until his junior season of high school. He also didn't redshirt while attending college, so he had only played five seasons of organized football before coming into the League. And it's taken him another 3 years essentially, to adapt to the professional level.
But as his late-season push seemed to suggest: Latimer is ready now to prove that he belongs in the NFL, and was worthy of the praise that he first came into the NFL with after a solid college career at Indiana.
Latimer doesn't have what you'd consider to be "blazing speed", but is impressively fast for a man of his size. He also possesses soft hands and perhaps most importantly from a wide receiver's perspective: he knows how to get body position — which shouldn't be all that surprising, given his devotion and notable passion for the sport of basketball.
Latimer was a "late bloomer" in the eyes of many NFL scouts coming out of Indiana, and it wasn't until after participating in the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine nearly 4 years ago that he finally caught everyone's attention.
Latimer missed most of the Combine drills that year with an injury; and it wasn't until a few weeks later when he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and then complemented that with a 39" vertical jump at his Pro Day, that got everyone to take notice.
Latimer was an emerging star at Indiana, with his numbers improving steadily in each of his 3 seasons during his time in Bloomington with the Hoosiers.
He earned 2nd-team All-Big 10 honors in his junior season of 2013, which up to this point remains as his most impressive performance of his entire career (other than last year's late-season push with the Broncos). In that 2013 campaign, Latimer caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and 9 TD's.
Now nearly 5 years later, the question becomes:
As a player who less than a year ago was considered to be a Draft "bust" for the Broncos, how much is Latimer worth on the open market to a potential Free Agent suitor such as the Saints?
That may be hard to determine at the moment. As a special teams ace (Latimer is considered one of the very best "gunners" in the League on punt and kick return coverage), he might be worth a couple million dollars per year.
But with his late-season push and still-blossoming ability for Denver last year as a receiver likely upping the Free Agent ante, his value appears to be somewhere in the 3-year, $10 million range. Obviously, that sounds like you'd be overpaying someone who only has 35 career receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns in his entire professional career so far.
However, if Saints brass think that Latimer is just merely "scratching the surface" with his still-blossoming skills as a receiver, and decide that a player of Latimer's talent and capability is always just an opportunity away from showing everyone his true potential, then it isn't all that far-fetched.
We'll know more in the upcoming weeks ahead, as the Saints front office brass ultimately make their decisions on Snead and Coleman.