ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In terms of physical attributes, the Broncos could scarcely have done better among wide receivers late in the second round: Indiana's Cody Latimer.
A broken left foot kept Latimer from running at the Combine, but at his Pro Day, he clocked a 40-yard dash timed between 4.39 and 4.43 seconds. That would have placed him between third and seventh-best among wide receivers at the Combine. But the average weight of the receivers who ran a sub-4.45 40 is 197 pounds. Latimer is 18 pounds heavier -- and also had the best bench-press figure among Combine wide receivers, with 23 repetitions.
These measurables helped Latimer's prospects soar, to where his name popped up on some mock first rounds in recent weeks -- and helped him get an invitation to Radio City Music Hall to be introduced when his name was called.
Rough games against some top-tier defenses probably dropped him to the second round; his two worst games last year were against Michigan State -- which featured first-round pick Darqueze Dennard -- and Wisconsin. Broncos first-round pick Bradley Roby and Ohio State also held Latimer below 100 yards (five catches, 60 yards). But he was never shut out, and often drew the attention of multiple defenders, as opponents knew Latimer was by far the Hoosiers' best threat.
There was good reason why defenses focused on Latimer: he grabs everything in sight.
"He catches every ball that is within his radius," his offensive coordinator, Kevin Johns, told USA Today this week. "In three years, I can think of just one ball that he dropped."
But that was just part of Latimer's skill set that intrigued the Broncos.
"Really, the cherry on top of the sundae was how he goes about and plays the game. He was the best blocking wide receiver, by far, in the draft. He took pride in what he did. He took pride in blocking," said Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway. "To me, that's what separated him.
"There's a bunch of other really good wide receivers, but what really got our attention was the way he took pride in what he did as far as blocking and then as you said, he's got great hands. He's got great speed. He's big and he's tough. He's a complete wide receiver."
The Broncos offer a perfect incubator that will allow him to polish his game. If starters Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders and No. 4 receiver Andre Caldwell remain healthy, the Broncos can let Latimer focus on perfecting his play.
By the 2015 season, Latimer will be far more than a bit player. The expiring contracts of Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker likely ensure that at least one of them will not be a Bronco. Elway talked at the Combine about Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas being priorities of next year's offseason, and because of their production and skill, they won't be cheap. With Sanders in the fold, the Broncos likely need one starting receiver to be playing on his first contract to keep that one area from gobbling too much cap room.
Because Latimer is big enough to play on the outside, he could eventually allow Sanders to move inside to the slot, which is a perfect fit for the quick, elusive free-agent signee. And if the Thomases and Sanders remain in the fold, Latimer is a perfect complement: an outside receiver capable of making plays in one-on-one.
Injuries could force Latimer into extensive duty this year, and he's a nice insurance policy to have. With him and Caldwell, the Broncos have solid depth. If the receivers remain healthy, Latimer's progress and success might not be known until 2015.
But the door is open to Latimer earning more playing time immediately -- as is the case with the Broncos' other selections so far.
"We're not putting them on the back burner," Elway said. "We're going to have them compete. I think they all have the ability, all three of them, really have the ability to come in and help us."
Latimer has all the tools to flourish. Now it's just a matter of time, and coaching, doing its work.