Is 2016 The Year WR Cody Latimer Finally Makes An Impact?

Its no secret WR Cody Latimer has struggled to make an impact thus far as a Bronco. But are Denver's offseason changes harbingers of new opportunities for Latimer in 2016?

After two shaky seasons, Denver Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer has upped the ante entering 2016.  But in Gary Kubiak’s run-heavy offense and Denver's deep receiver group, putting up bigger numbers may prove to be a serious challenge.

“I just have a lot of confidence right now, I’m just ready to play, I feel like it’s time to make an impact,” Latimer said following Denver’s final OTA before the dark period between mini-camp and training camp. 

Latimer may very well be ready both physically and mentally to make a bigger splash in his third year as a Bronco, but his standing on the depth chart may end up being the biggest barrier between Latimer and a breakout season. 

Come August, the former second round pick out of Indiana will battle for the No. 3 receiver spot with fellow veterans Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler, who, like Latimer, have both been with the Broncos since 2014. 

This positional battle is sure to be fierce; Fowler and Norwood each proved their mettle during last season’s Super Bowl run. Norwood notched the longest punt return in the history of the Super Bowl and Fowler reeled in a 31-yard catch and run that lifted the offense on their lone touchdown drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round. 

Latimer’s 2015 campaign was not completely unfruitful, however.  The signature play of his career, to this point, came on special teams in the third quarter of the Sunday Night Football classic against the undefeated New England Patriots.  Latimer, playing gunner on the punt team, hammered the Pats’ Chris Harper and forced a fumble that would bounce happily into the waiting arms of Shaquil Barrett The turnover gave the Broncos new life, and a short field, as they overcame a two touchdown deficit to shock New England in overtime.

Aside from the massive special teams contribution, Latimer has been slow to carve out a role as a pass catcher.  The general consensus during 2014 and 2015 was that Latimer was unable to master the offense, which frustrated the detail-oriented Peyton Manning and left the wide receiver spending on the sideline most games. 

Five of Latimer’s six receptions last year came off the arm of Brock Osweiler, showing that Latimer may simply be more comfortable in a system that features fewer adjustments at the line of scrimmage.  This could bode well in 2016, now that the offense, minus Manning, should be easier to grasp conceptually. 

But even if Latimer can completely wrap his head around the Kubiak playbook, his opportunities as a playmaker may be limited.  He and Fowler have prototypical outside wide receiver size and speed, which may cement them as a second unit behind entrenched starters Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  Meanwhile, Norwood’s small stature makes him the leading candidate for the slot wide receiver role. 

Historically, Kubiak’s offenses have not extensively featured more than two wide receivers.  In his eight years coaching the Houston Texans, Kubiak’s third receiver only saw more than seventy targets once (Jacoby Jones in 2010.) 

Moreover, a Kubiak passing game tends to utilize all available receivers.  With the addition of Nebraska's dynamic Andy Janovich in the sixth round of the draft, the Broncos have made it clear they will once again feature an athletic fullback both in run-blocking and the bootleg passing scheme, harkening back to the days of dual-threats like Howard Griffith and Kyle Johnson. 

Tight ends Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman should also expect plenty of targets as the Broncos line up in more heavy-package two and three tight end formations.

This is not to say that Cody Latimer won’t be able to find the field in 2016.  But with the promise and talent Denver boasts at the skill positions, his margin for error will be paper thin.  Latimer can no longer afford to run the wrong route or have any miscommunications in the huddle or line of scrimmage. 

If he does slip up at any point, a crop of wide receivers, including Peyton Manning’s rehab buddy Jordan Taylor, undrafted rookies Kalif Raymond, Bralon Addison, Mose Frazier, and third-year former Texan DeVier Posey will be hungry to steal those all-important training camp and preseason reps. 

Also, a recent incident in which Latimer was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket, after his girlfriend was arrested on suspicion of assault, creates an unwanted distraction heading into his make-or-break third year. 

Despite all of this, Latimer will more than likely make the 53-man roster because of his value as a special teamer and his experience in the offense.  His real challenge is avoiding a depth chart burial for the third consecutive season.

Cody Latimer’s ability to make an impact, as he put it, will come down to whether or not he can take advantage of his few, but critically important, opportunities.

Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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