The NFL draft process is long and complicated, especially this year with the draft being delayed by two extra weeks. As a result, each and every spring, a number of prospects turn from perceived studs to perceived duds while others do the opposite, all without playing a single football game.
Cody Latimer didn't necessarily enter draft season as a dud, but the 21-year-old former Indiana wide receiver has had his stock rise so significantly in recent weeks that he's at least gone from afterthought to potential first-round pick.
On paper, Latimer has always been a potential star. He's 6'2" and 215 pounds with superb hands, the explosiveness that comes from his basketball background and unmatched strength at that position. Despite dealing with an injury that kept him out of every other drill at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Hoosier led all receivers at that event with 23 reps on the bench press.
That was the first clue that Latimer was more than just a big, talented wideout among an extremely deep draft class of big, talented wideouts. Before that, he hadn't differentiated himself, which shouldn't be surprising considering where he comes from. Known for basketball first and foremost, Indiana hasn't produced a first-round pick in the NFL draft in 20 years, and it's been nearly half a decade since a Hoosier has been drafted in any round.
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He's not from the SEC like Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr., and he's not from the Pac-12 like Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks.
And while his combine bench press at least placed him on the radar, Latimer wasn't able to become a household name among draftniks until he was cleared to work out without restrictions stemming from January foot surgery. That's why his rise up draft boards was delayed until he was able to put on a show at Indiana's pro day only two months after his surgery.
In Bloomington on March 26, in front of representatives from 19 NFL teams, Latimer, who was never known for his sheer speed, ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, according to Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star, complementing that with a 39" vertical jump.
“Scouts were surprised to the point of being impressed a 215-pound receiver was able to run so well so soon after foot surgery,” draft analyst Tony Pauline told Osterman.
At the combine, that 40 time would have ranked third among wide receivers while his vertical would have placed him in a tie for sixth. Combine that with his bench press and the fact that the kid was still coming back from surgery, and you have the recipe for a stock to rise beyond all others, even in this year's bull draft stock market.
Quickly, Latimer started becoming a very popular man among NFL scouts and front offices.
#Indiana WR Cody Latimer has 7 visits lined up (PHI, DET, OAK, SEA, SD, CAR). Eagles & Panthers are both planning workouts with him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 7, 2014
On Friday, when he held a workout off campus in Indy, the football world had to start paying attention.
Big day for hot #Indiana WR Cody Latimer, who will do on-field drills and work out for nearly every team today in Indianapolis.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2014
One particularly receiver-needy team spent quite some team watching and working with Latimer at that Indianapolis workout, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. So you'd have to think that the Eagles could be convinced to take him as early as 22nd.
#Eagles, who were three-deep at WR Cody Latimer’s workout today, spent 20 minutes post-workout having him run their routes. They pick No. 22— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2014
Again, Latimer always had it in him, but his impressive pro day workout may have been what was required for the draft's decision-makers to start paying attention.
Keep in mind that many stocks rise and fall during this period because NFL front offices spend the first few months of the calendar year catching up on tape from the previous college season. It's impossible to see everything and everyone live, so the process has a weird delay, causing players to gain or lose ground without moving a muscle.
And if those combine and pro day performances from Latimer forced a few general managers to take a look at Indiana tape from 2013, it probably only helped his cause.
That's because Latimer was a beast at Indiana, with his numbers improving steadily in each of his three seasons, culminating with second-team All-Big 10 honors in his junior season.
His breakout performance actually took place against Iowa in 2012, when Latimore scored all three of Indiana's touchdowns in a 24-21 victory only weeks beyond his 20th birthday. This was the game-winner in the fourth quarter:
But he really exploded in 2013, putting up 137 yards against Bowling Green in September. In that game, he flashed his route-running skills:
And his speed:
The very next week, he had eight catches and 136 yards against Missouri. A lot of experts still have questions about Latimer's wheels, but this catch-and-run against the Tigers has to helped quell that:
And then only a week after that, he hit new career highs with nine grabs and 140 yards against Penn State:
So 23 catches and 413 yards in a three-week span. Some chalk that up to the offensive system in Bloomington, which certainly didn't hurt. But the tape from last season also shows Latimer to be a flat-out playmaker.
And exhibit B:
Considering the athlete he is—Latimer had scholarship offers as a basketball and football player back in Dayton, Ohio—we should only expect him to get better. He's still grasping the game and has blown analysts away this spring despite recovering from surgery.
Maybe he never learns to separate himself from NFL defensive backs on deep routes, and that fear could be a big reason why he may fail to separate himself from his wide receiver peers in this year's draft. But even if that comes to fruition and Latimer winds up as more of a possession guy, he has the tools to become a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout at the next level.
More and more draft people are beginning to realize that, and we've still got two weeks to go before names start being called. It's completely possible we hear Cody Latimer's name in Round 1.