As we countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Hands: 9 5/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.38 (pro day)
Vertical Jump: 39” (pro day)
Broad Jump: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
Like a number of recent college receivers and tight ends, Latimer’s first love was basketball. In fact, he was good enough at it to draw scholarship offers from lower-level Division I schools such as Morehead State and Western Carolina before his mother talked him into trying football as a high school junior and follow in the footsteps of his late father (Colby), who played college football at Bowling Green in the 1980s. Ultimately, the three-star recruit (and 49th-best receiver in his recruiting class, according to Rivals.com) opted to play the Hoosiers after an exceptional senior season in high school on the gridiron. In only his third year of organized football, Latimer started two of the eight games he played in as a freshman before missing the final three due to injury (sports hernia). He followed his 12-141-2 rookie campaign with 51 catches for 805 yards and six scores in 2012, garnering second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and an honorable mention all-conference nod by the coaches. In his final season, Latimer became the first Hoosier since James Hardy (2007) with three straight 100-yard games and put himself on the NFL prospect map with an 11-catch, 189-yard, three-touchdown effort against Illinois. He ended 2013 with 72 catches for 1,096 yards and nine scores, allowing him to earn the same conference honors he did the year before. Latimer underwent surgery for a left foot fracture in January that he suffered in mid-October 2013 and did not participate in any positional drills at the combine, but left his mark in Indianapolis anyway when he led his position group with 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. He further helped himself by running 40-yard times between 4.38 and 4.45 (depending on the source) at his pro day just a bit over two months after his surgery.
NFL Player Comp(s): Hakeem Nicks
- Bigger receiver with great hand-eye coordination, body control and ball skills; makes nearly every catch look routine.
- Shows no fear working over the middle of the field and maintains focus in traffic.
- Wins more than his fair share of contested catches thanks to strong hands and impressive leaping ability.
- Despite limited football experience, he already seems to understand how to use his body to shield off defender on short and intermediate throws.
- Aggressive and tough (played more than half of the 2013 season with a foot fracture); drew praise from coaches about how he developed as a leader over the course of his career.
- Strongest receiver at the combine and plays like it; motivated blocker that will drive defender out of bounds if necessary and play to the whistle.
- Not the most efficient route runner and will round off his cuts on occasion.
- More physical than elusive, despite possessing impressive quickness and acceleration.
- Could stand to improve in terms of fighting through contact in his routes.
- Needs to learn to “sit down” more often against zone coverage.
- Played some on kick coverage units, but has no experience as a returner.
The long gap between the end of the college season and the NFL Draft often hurts more players than it helps, but one winner this offseason has been Latimer, who has seemingly evolved from a late-round possession receiver prospect into a potential late first-round selection. After watching four of his games – Bowling Green, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan – it is hard for me to believe that he was ever considered a late-round prospect; he deserves a spot among the top five receivers in the class. Considering the fact he isn’t even all that close to being a finished product yet, Latimer is easily a better prospect than the more highly-regarded Marqise Lee and a much safer bet than Kelvin Benjamin with a ton of upside. The caveat to his relatively late arrival to football is that a team may need to a full season or more to refine his abilities as a route-runner, but there’s little doubt that his rise to prominence this offseason was warranted and some team may end up getting top-20 value out of a player that may go late in the first round or early in the second. Although he has been labeled as a fit for the West Coast offense, he should be able to succeed in just about any scheme. Like any receiver outside of the top four (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin Cooks), Latimer shouldn’t be expected to set the world on fire as a rookie. However, I am convinced he has the ability to be a No. 2 receiver right away and can become his team’s go-to option sometime in his second season if necessary.