In Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock draft for ESPN, the godfather of the modern NFL Draft craze had the New Orleans Saints selecting Indiana junior wide receiver Cody Latimer in the first round. Latimer is a 6-foot-3, 215 lbs. speedster who managed 23 repetitions of 225 lbs. at the NFL Combine – more than any other receiver managed in Indianapolis, despite Latimer recovering from foot surgery.
At his pro day, Latimer managed times of 4.39 and 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. Both would be considered excellent for a player of his size, if fully healthy. The fact that Latimer was still recovering – at least to some extent – from surgery on his foot shows that he is one of the best athletes in this draft, regardless of position.
Latimer’s play improved in each college season, culminating in a rousing success of 72 catches for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns in his final campaign at Indiana. That was good for 15.2 yards per catch, only the second best average of his three-year college career.
College advanced metrics are difficult to get ahold of, so numbers cannot be confirmed, but the tape showed a receiver who just didn’t drop the football. If the ball is catchable, Latimer nearly always came down with the football in his hands.
He does a nice job of rotating his body in mid-air, if need be, to make a difficult back shoulder catch. And he gets open deep with regularity, even using his hands well to create separation at the line of scrimmage versus press coverage.
There are issues, though, with Latimer’s game. Most notably, his routes are almost always rounded, instead of sharp cuts. When coming back to the quarterback on a curl/hook route he stands up, leaving him flat-footed and not ready to either get hit or make a play after the catch (always a pet peeve of mine from the perspective of a receivers coach).
In traffic, he tends to allow the ball to fall into his hands instead of taking the ball away from the defender. He’s more reminiscent of Robert Meachem than Marques Colston, though based on his size you’d expect the opposite to be true.
With Nick Toon at a similar size – and likely to be on the 2014 roster – it’s hard to imagine the team using a pick on a taller receiver who doesn’t offer a special package in terms of physicality.
Simply put – in terms of fit for the 2014 roster – Latimer doesn’t make much sense in New Orleans. There’s also this tidbit from Chris Trapasso:
Keeping up on one of draft’s fastest risers — multiple teams have Cody Latimer in their Top 5 at the position. Intrigued by speed / length.
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) April 18, 2014
In fact, #Packers have Latimer as No. 4 on their WR board. That’s the highest I’ve heard.
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) April 18, 2014
In other words, Latimer’s name is in high demand. That very demand is likely what caused Kiper’s overreaction to Latimer’s stock, and thus his placing Latimer with the Saints in the first round.
Let’s evaluate just a bit further.
Kiper has Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans both going in the top-seven. That’s reasonable this year, but only because of the talent of those two players. Most years, two receivers in the top-10 would be ridiculous.
He also has three offensive tackles in the top-10. That’s reasonable because lineman often get drafted higher than they are graded. The two pass-rushing ends – Clowney and Mack – also make a ton of sense. Then he has Johnny “Football” and Blake Bortles going top-10, plus Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix being drafted 10th to the Lions.
The noticeable absence of Teddy Bridgewater seems another huge overreaction which will be corrected come draft day. That’s a player likely to jump back into the top-10. But that player doesn’t have a great effect on what the Saints decided to do with the 27th pick.
He also had Fresno State quarterback, and brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, Derek Carr going well before the Saints pick at number 27. Yet somehow Kiper still has room for a player like Latimer at 27, though he was not a popular name for the first round until very recently.
Here’s the final method of critique now. Listed here below are all the receivers teams could legitimately have a day one or two grade on entering May 8th’s selection meeting.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Marqise Lee, Southern California
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Davante Adams, Fresno State
Jarvis Landry, LSU
Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Cody Latimer, Indiana
Those are not my personal rankings, simply a list of 14 wide receivers. In my mind, only one of those players really stands out from the others (check my past articles if you want to know who).
That player will be gone by pick number 27. So if the Saints have decided they’re going to draft a wide receiver in this draft, why reach for a player they might be able to get in the second round? Even if they do not get that particular player, they’ll find a comparable talent, and perhaps a better fit.
The truth – at least in my mind – is that there’s little difference between most of these guys in terms of ability and talent. And Sean Payton could make any of them fit into the Saints’ offense.
So why draft any of them in the first round?