In the spirit of provocative inquiries, could Cody Latimer prove the next Anquan Boldin for the San Francisco 49ers?
Is the Indiana product the team's next big-bodied, catch-everything-thrown-his-way possession target? A second-round pick who dominates defensive backs with a combination of strength, size and precise route running between the hash marks?
Yes—and the 49ers can dig it (if they so choose).
Making comparisons between college prospects and 10,000-yard receivers are generally unfair to the rookie or even disrespectful to the accomplished, Super Bowl-winning vet.
There indeed exists a limited amount of verifiable proof for an exercise of this kind. But we’ll do it anyway.
Why? Because the NFL draft is less than four weeks away—a time which appropriately compels the scribbling-inclined toward exciting analytical studies and future projections.
Sure, corroborating evidence won’t fully materialize until Latimer hits the field, runs the routes and starts filling up stat sheets. But that applies to every preseason analyses of incoming players.
Translating existing skills and collegiate production onto the NFL gridiron remains a worthwhile endeavor. With that in mind, let’s break down why Latimer could develop into a Boldin-quality wideout for the 49ers based off physique, skill set, college statistics, intangibles, draft position and team fit.
Big-Body Physicality…With Speed and Hops
Boldin measures in at 6’1’’, 220 pounds—call him thick and powerful. When on the field, he operates with both muscular and functional strength.
If you aren’t aware of this already, please utilize that video-thing called YouTube.
Latimer has a more elongated frame, but still comes in at a similar 6’2’’, 215 pounds. He also plays with both weight-room strength—see: WR-best 23 reps on the bench press—and gridiron-power with his “frame and physicality to create separation,” per Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com.
But what Boldin lacks, Latimer has in spades.
San Francisco’s current No. 2 receiver recorded a mere 4.7-second 40-yard dash and 33.5’’ vertical jump at the 2003 combine. And at 33 years old, he isn’t running any faster or jumping any higher at this point in his career.
Latimer, fortunately, brings to the table a 4.4-second 40 and an outstanding 39’’ vertical, according to his pro day results via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Talk about a potential size-speed revelation in the Red and Gold.
Let’s now see how those impressive numbers enhance his positional abilities.
Routes, Separation, Hands
Boldin and Latimer execute technically sound, pre-throw routes in the underneath to intermediate areas of the field. Both can then effectively separate from defenders when their quarterback releases the ball. And both routinely secure the catch upon delivery of said football.
Per the lauded brains at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Boldin registered the third-highest yards per route run in 2013. His 2.55 YPPR ranked behind only Calvin Johnson (2.72) and Josh Gordon (2.68)—perhaps two of the NFL’s preeminent wideouts last season.
He also recorded a top-nine catch rate of 67.8 while running slot-based patterns. And the man throwing to him—a certain Colin Kaepernick—posted a top-three passer rating of 118.6 when targeting his security blanket.
So, where does the former Hoosier find himself in this picture?
NFL.com’s Nawrocki points out that Latimer “shows a jab step to get into routes cleanly and is equipped to combat the jam.” Derek Stephens of CBS Sports further notes that his “impressive speed/agility combination…enable[s] him to separate consistently as a route-runner.”
Most notably, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay (subscription required) was “blown away by his game” after studying film tape.
He details that Latimer “does a great job of getting off the press” and “has extremely reliable hands.”
We’ll elaborate later on additional skills in his repertoire, his potential scheme-fit in the 49ers offense and any significant drawbacks to his game.
But for now, let’s highlight Latimer’s tangible accomplishments at Indiana.
Steady 3-Year Progression
Take a gander at Boldin’s numerical progression at Florida State (1999-2000; 2002).
Now check out Latimer’s three-year career at Indiana (2011-2013).
Notice any correlations?
Each evolved from 100-yards-and-change irrelevants as freshmen to bona fide 1,000-yard weapons with big-time scoring production during their junior year.
Their final collegiate campaigns were similar among conference rankings as well. Boldin was fifth in the ACC in receptions, third in receiving yards and ninth in yards per catch. Latimer, meanwhile, rated fourth, third and ninth, respectively, in those same categories as a second-team All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Statistical niceties aside, the fact that Latimer improved every year in college shows his willingness to put in the work and place trust in the process.
To that end, the 49ers coaching staff wouldn’t require his immediate services in year one (more on this later). They would steadily develop him behind Michael Crabtree, Quinton Patton and, of course, his positional likeness, among others. Latimer would not see the field until attaining the level of maximum NFL-readiness.
His patience and dedication would surely lend themselves to that extended time frame.
Speaking of which…
Red and Gold-Approved Intangibles
Recall that pivotal moment in the divisional playoffs when an ostensible 49ers touchdown was under review? Remember when Boldin was the one instilling calm in head coach Jim Harbaugh and pulling him toward the sideline—and not the other way around?
Yes, that’s the type of leadership the veteran champion brings to the fold.
Can Latimer even sniff that type of positive influence? Of course not. But within reason, he would offer high-ranking intangibles—even as a rookie.
The scouts at ESPN Insider (subscription required) underscore how “coaches [spoke] positively about his character and how he developed as a leader.” They also awarded Latimer an “exceptional” grade for his competitiveness:
Battled through foot injury [during] most [of] 2013 season (suffered early Michigan State game). Absolutely no fear over middle. Focus in traffic. Competitive runner after catch. Tough, physical and aggressive. Above average effort as stalk blocker.
Fearless, focused and a willing blocker to boot—those attributes undoubtedly scream Boldin-quality and Harbaugh-approved.
The next question, then, is will the draft unfold in such a way that Latimer falls to the 49ers when Trent Baalke is on the clock?
From the 1st Round to the 5th
Okay, in no way are we advocating that Baalke use the 30th overall pick on a receiver who as of two weeks ago was unknown to just about everyone.
Notwithstanding outlandish mock drafts, what’s important is the considerable range in which Latimer finds himself.
As for the 49ers, well, they own 11 picks.
Those include two in the second, three in the third and one in both the fourth and fifth rounds.
Baalke could conceivably snatch him up at any of those draft slots.
Which draft position best fits Latimer's skill set?
As long as the Niners’ general manager addresses more pressing needs in the early rounds (more on this in the next slide), Latimer would qualify as a fine selection on Day Two or Day Three.
While it isn’t officially known if any of those teams are the 49ers, they could just as easily emerge as a dark-horse on actual draft day.
Baalke has certainly been known for such unheralded moves in the past.
West Coast Fit and Boldin’s Heir Apparent—In Time
Let’s first identify those loathsome “developmental” weaknesses and conclude with a positive, but reasonable outlook.
Stephens of CBS Sports deems Latimer potentially susceptible to drops due to “occasional concentration issues.”
ESPN Insider believes he is “not elusive enough to frequently string together double moves to make multiple defenders miss.”
Nawrocki of NFL.com declares that he “shows some lower-body stiffness in his route running” and that “he lacks foot speed to separate vertically.”
But those same reputable analysts also provide the following praise.
According to CBS Sports, Latimer “extend[s] plays after the catch both in space and on contact…[His] physical talent is obviously there to warrant development.”
Big catching radius. Strong hands. Very good natural hand-eye coordination. Strong taking ball away from defenders on contested ball. Excels at quickly transitioning upfield after catch. Very natural adjusting to ball over shoulder. Impressive body control for size.
Kaepernick to Boldin much?
In addition to noting his elite ball skills, Nawrocki accurately encapsulates his fit with the 49ers:
Latimer is a well-built, sure-handed, West Coast possession receiver whose hardwood background is evident in his leaping ability, body control and hand-eye coordination…Could be effective running slants and making contested catches to beat zone coverage and succeed in the red zone.
Though Nawrocki limits his ceiling to a No. 3 receiver, we fully believe that he’ll evolve into formidable No. 2 wideout in a few years’ time.
Considering that the contract for the then 35-year-old Boldin will expire in 2015, according to Spotrac, that “developmental” period might just end at the perfect time.
Again, Baalke must eliminate more significant deficiencies in the first round.
He must move high up for a red-zone game-changer in Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, or in the top 20 for a blazing downfield threat in Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, or even stay put for a versatile cover corner in Texas Christian University’s Jason Verrett or Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech.
But as a future asset and Boldin’s replacement acquired on Day Two, a once anonymous Latimer would prove beneficial to the sustainability of this 49ers franchise.
Niners fans can only wonder if Baalke will again prove himself a draft-day surprise-artist in the here and now of 2014.
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