In 2014, following their Super Bowl defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos spent a second-round draft pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer.
In his rookie season, he was expected to add another threat to what was an already potent offense with all-pro’s Demaryius and Julius Thomas (no relation), in addition to veteran Wes Welker and major free agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders en route to another Super Bowl appearance.
You would have thought that with all those weapons, the Broncos were good in the pass-catching department. However, Welker spent a large majority of the season either injured or struggling for catches, paving the way for the rookie Latimer to shine.
That, at least, was the plan.
Latimer ended his rookie season with a mere two catches for 23 yards. Latimer now attributes his struggles to not being able to deal with the transitional mental aspect of life as an NFL wide receiver.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Latimer led Indiana with 72 receptions for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 with three consecutive 100-yard receiving performances.
In a candid interview, Latimer tells the Denver Post that he struggled learning the offense, in particularly learning to adjust on the fly when quarterback Peyton Manning would change plays at the line of scrimmage.
“It took me too long to actually catch on,” Latimer said. “I was in the playbook, but I could have done even more. When I actually got it, it was too late. It was just way different [than college]. I would know the play, then Peyton would change it. Then I’d get to thinking too much and play slower.”
Not only making the shift from College to the NFL, but being thrust into a scheme that even a number of seasoned veteran players struggle with, in hindsight, it was no great shock that Latimer displayed signs of struggle.
Latimer has been working with renowned NFL receiver and mentor Brandon Marshall, the former Bears receiver helped Alshon Jeffery transition from a so-so rookie season to break into one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in the NFL, and with Marshall traded to New York with the Jets, Jeffery is expected to take the mantle of number one receiver in Chicago.
Latimer also worked with Manning and fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders during the offseason, and he says he’s reaching a better feel of what’s expected from him.
“I am pounding it into my head. I have to make sure I get it especially by the time of minicamp,” Latimer said. “You don’t want to be out there looking like a fool.”
Sanders went on to support the receiver who will be entering his second NFL season.
"He's a special player. He has strong hands, the physical tools, I think this is going to be the year he jumps onto the map."
While the label of a ‘bust’ is often bandied around unfairly and too early in many cases for young players, Latimer shows that the difference between a struggling rookie who drifts into the land of ‘bust’, and a rookie who the game eventually can slow down for with experience and knowledge, can potentially break out into a essential member of his team.
He undoubtedly plays with a chip on his shoulder, when Latimer was only 13, his father, Colby, died of cancer, a disease that also claimed his grandmother and recently his close aunt.
"Once you lose a parent, it really doesn't get much harder than that,” he continued.
"I have motivation, I am taking everything seriously. I am not going to let the coaches, my teammates, my family down. It's a strong feeling. I don't want to disappoint them."