Is Cody Latimer a 2015 Breakout Candidate?

After redshirting his rookie year in the NFL, can Denver Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer burst onto the scene in 2015?

We are absolutely spoiled. As fantasy owners and football fans alike, we are living in an era unparalleled before in NFL history. Judging by their recent average draft positions, we are still basking in the collective glow that surrounded the immediate impact of 2014 rookie wide receiver class. Yes, we are lucky enough to now live in a world where rookie wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds will all make a huge impact.

Except for one of them.

The Denver Broncos selected Cody Latimer out of Indiana University with the 56th Overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Many in the draftnik community had high hopes for his rookie year, but the 6’ 2”, 215-pound wideout was one of just two first-year early-round receivers to have 10 or fewer receptions (the other was the Eagles’ Josh Huff). Blocked by a fairly formidable corps on paper of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker, Latimer spent most of his year on the bench or inactive.

Still a prospect darling in the fantasy world, can Latimer find a way break into the starting lineup in 2015, or will this redshirted receiver play just a complementary role again in his sophomore year in the NFL?

The Map Room

It’s typically seen as a huge reason to panic when a highly-drafted rookie doesn’t see the field in his first year. More and more, though, teams with depth at a position are seeing an opportunity to hold injured players out and allow them to rehab. This, in turn, doesn’t detract from the team’s current chances of winning and gives a player time to feel ready about their injury and their acclimation to the fast pace and heavy hitting of the NFL.

Consider in recent years the San Francisco 49ers drafting defensive lineman Tank Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore, the Patriots drafting defensive lineman Dominique Easley and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. None of these players were selected with immediate results in mind.

Cody Latimer appears to be in this category. With the aforementioned Thomas, Sanders, and Welker, and even veteran Andre Caldwell at his own position -- not to mention veteran tight end Jacob Tamme to fill in when needed -- the Broncos’ selection in the second round was purely luxury.

So fret not, friends. I’m chalking up 2014 to a “training wheels year” for Latimer, and he will enter 2015 treated as what he was last year: a second-round rookie with a ton of upside. But will there be a role waiting for him when he arrives? Let’s look at the team and find out.

The Situation Room

First, let’s break this down in a traditional sense. Any offense helmed by Peyton Manning is going to have a good level of opportunity and production available to it, both in the form of targets and likely passing yards. How much did the Broncos produce last year, and what -- if any -- portion of that is up for grabs in 2015?

The table below shows the Broncos’ top five pass-catchers from 2015, represented in terms of receiving yards, targets, and percentage of each category from the team as a whole.

PlayerTargetsTarget %Rec YardsRec Yards %
Demaryius Thomas17829.8%1,61934.2%
Emmanuel Sanders10116.9%1,40929.8%
Wes Welker6410.7%4649.8%
Julius Thomas6010.1%48910.3%
Jacob Tamme284.7%1092.3%

When broken down like this, this is a pretty stark reminder that Peyton has his favorite weapons and tends not to stray from them. 46.7% of his targets were divided up between Demaryius and Sanders, and the two of them gobbled up a whopping 64.0% of the Broncos’ total air yardage last season. Even if we look at Manning’s touchdown passes from last year, 32 of his 39 touchdowns went to the two Thomases and Sanders.

597 passing attempts makes it seem like there is a lot of wealth to go around, but in reality, this wealth is being concentrated mostly at the top of the pyramid in nearly every single facet (#ThanksPeyton). With Welker, Tamme, and Julius Thomas joining the ranks of the 2015 free agent class (Tamme signed with the Atlanta Falcons, Thomas with the Jacksonville Jaguars), there are -- in theory -- around 150 targets up for grabs. More on that later.

The Oval Office

Past production and opportunities are all fine and well, but unless we break down what’s happening underneath this on-field production, we won’t know if these we flukes or sustainable. To assess this situation properly, we will also analyze the Broncos’ production in a more metric-based sense as well.

With numberFire’s extensive database, we have the unique ability to figure out each play from scrimmage’s value added; this is what makes up Net Expected Points (NEP). It uses the foundational unit of expected points, which takes into account down and distance and the historical chance of scoring from that point on the field. The player’s production is then recorded based on how much they advance the team probability of scoring throughout the entire game.

The table below shows the top-five pass-catchers expected to be on Denver’s roster this year in terms of 2014 Reception NEP and Target NEP, and their positional ranks in each category. Will ineffectiveness open up any other chances for our friend Latimer?

PlayerRec NEPRec NEP/PTarget NEP
Demaryius Thomas140.590.7662.35
Emmanuel Sanders125.700.8991.60
Owen Daniels49.090.6316.33
Virgil Green8.511.428.51
Andre Caldwell2.370.16-5.80

All in all, this doesn’t look great for Cody Latimer. With how valuable Demaryius Thomas and Sanders were to this team in 2014, both should have highly secure roles and opportunity levels going into 2015. This can be said, though: with about 40 fewer targets in 2012 and 2013, Thomas was more productive on a per-target Reception NEP basis and more reliable as a receiver in Target NEP. If they scale his workload back slightly, this could bring a bit of benefit to the team as a whole.

Denver also brought in veteran tight end Owen Daniels to soak up some of the available opportunities, and he seems a near-lock to receive Julius’s targets and then some. Daniels has ranged between 80-100 targets over his last four seasons, and head coach Gary Kubiak will draw up plays specifically for him. Virgil Green might have an expanded role too, making things even more scarce for the other pass-catchers on this team. Caldwell should be relegated out of a real rotation, however; he’s been nearly useless for a while.

The real elephants in the room are reports that have Kubiak wanting to scale back Peyton’s throwing even more than expected. Kubiak has typically been a fairly run-heavy coach, and this might be the direction the team goes in. If this happens, we might see Peyton’s around 600 passing attempts in 2014 drop to around 550. That might not seem like much, but considering that only a theoretical 150 targets were available before might drop that number to around 135. If Daniels grabs even only 75 of those, and Green sees just 20 more targets, that leaves Cody Latimer with only 40 targets to work with in a best-case scenario.

Latimer is an extraordinarily talented player, but the math just doesn’t play out well for him heading into 2015. Hang onto him for 2016. That might be when we see a true breakout.