Following the crushing defeat in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Denver Broncos faced a myriad of tough personnel decisions in the off-season. The team had a ton of needs, with Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips, Wesley Woodyard and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all scheduled to become free agents, all on top of a defense that was among the league's worst throughout the season and in need of major upgrades.
When free agency came along, the Broncos filled most of their holes with the signing of T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders. The other holes were to be filled by players entering their second seasons and players returning from injury.
The Broncos entered the 2014 NFL Draft with what was widely considered the best roster in the NFL, top to bottom. This also meant that they didn't have a ton of needs in the draft, and could select players based off of talent, rather than need.
After making Bradley Roby their top pick, the Broncos drafted wide receiver, Cody Latimer, out of Indiana. Latimer was a dream pick for the team, a big bodied receiver with the best hands in the draft. By all accounts, Latimer would be the perfect replacement for Decker down the road, and could contribute to the offense immediately.
Just as a wide receiver became Broncos Country's favorite free agent acquisition (Sanders), so too became Latimer, acquired via the draft. From the onset of organized team activities (OTAs), the fanbase has fallen in love with Latimer, with his size, his speed, his hands and even his smile.
His personality is infectious. He is seemingly loved by everyone at Dove Valley. During OTAs and training camp, the coaching staff could not help but rave about the kid's maturity, his skill and what he would bring to the team. Yet Latimer has been active for a paltry two games this season and has failed to play a single snap on offense.
Playing alongside Peyton Manning is no easy task. It is a position that demands chemistry, excellence and attention to detail. This is likely the reason Latimer has failed to gain a role within the offense. The experience Andre Caldwell has in the Broncos system, has also led John Fox to give him more reps than the rookie. Fox favors the veterans.
Yet Caldwell's experience has yielded a meager 86 snaps on the season, resulting in 2 receptions for 16 yards, with three drops. Caldwell has been less than stellar, and while he has been the main return man, the team also has Omar Bolden, who was inactive against the Chargers, who can also field kicks.
Latimer was finally active for the San Diego Chargers matchup, so might he finally be garnering some attention in the offense?
Looking back to last season, Latimer is in a situation that is very similar to what Montee Ball faced last year as a rookie. While Ball, a 2013 2nd round pick, was talked up by the coaching staff and even Manning, he saw very little action the first 7 games of the season. In the 8th game, against Washington, Ball played 30 snaps, more than he had seen at any point during the season.
The week prior, Ronnie Hillman coughed up a costly 4th quarter fumble in the redzone that consequently eliminated his role with the team for the remainder of the year.
Just last week, Caldwell coughed up what should have been upheld as a fumble, which could have very realistically shifted momentum and the outcome of the game. Hillman fumbled in the Broncos 7th game last season, Caldwell fumbled in the Broncos 7th game this season. Some trends are building here. In both cases, a highly touted 2nd round pick was found waiting in the wings, ready to contribute.
Cody Latimer is a clear and immediate upgrade over Caldwell athletically and as a blocker. Plus, he has better hands. The question left is regarding Latimer's route running abilities and if he can play up to Manning's expectations.
Caldwell no longer has a role within the offense and is quickly falling out of favor on special teams, so might it be time to see what the rookie has to offer? Stay tuned. Latimer's day is quickly coming.
Check out this hit Latimer (#14 top of screen) put on Niners safety, Antoine Betha, in a blocking effort, via Mile High Report. This was a preseason matchup.