- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Denver Broncos will bring their draft class into their Dove Valley complex this coming weekend for a three-day, welcome-to-the-show rookie minicamp.
All of the first-year players will get their indoctrination into the Broncos' way on all things football. So, at Step 1 in their quest to earn a roster spot to go with some playing time in the regular season, it's a good time to look at the prospects for each of those players in the six-player draft class.
Today: Second-round pick Cody Latimer.
What does he bring to the table: When the Broncos stared down a draft board filled with big, strong, fast wide receivers they wanted all that and more.
They wanted not just a guy with quality hands who can add on the yardage with the ball under his arm, but somebody with the mental wherewithal to work in the fast-paced environment of the Broncos' no-huddle attack. They needed somebody was also willing and able to buckle up and block in the run game.
Latimer was the all-of-the-above guy. Enough so that the team traded three draft picks to move up seven slots to take him in the second round. Latimer showed elite speed in his pre-draft workout and his game video shows a tenacious blocker who also has the physicality to win contested passes at almost every opportunity.
"The aggression just comes naturally and you want to dominate corners, guys who are smaller than you," Latimer said. "And with my little basketball history background playing in the post against 6-8, 6-10 guys made me even more physical being able to handle that so once I go up against a smaller corner, it makes it makes it much easier for me."
Prospects for playing time: The Broncos did sign Emmanuel Sanders at the position to replace the departed Eric Decker. And make no mistake the Broncos' pro personnel department had Sanders as one of the top available free agents and the offensive coaches have big plans for him in the coming season.
But with Wes Welker's concussion history and the team's desire for more offensive depth, Latimer can earn some quality snaps right out of the gate. Even with Andre Caldwell having signed a two-year deal with the team just before free agency opened, Latimer projects to be the No. 4 receiver in the rotation.
Biggest hurdle to playing time: Latimer had surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left foot in January -- the fifth metatarsal -- so the Broncos will have to evaluate him physically. There are times, because of blood flow to that part of the foot, the fifth metarsal can be slower to heal than other bones. Also, often players need a second surgery to remove screws that were inserted to help in the healing process or to deal with scar tissue.
Both Decker and Demaryius Thomas had foot surgery in the months before each player's respective rookie seasons. Both dealt with issues relating to that in that first year -- Decker has said his foot was sore for most of that first season.
In the end, however, the Broncos liked what they saw in a limited pro day workout and got a favorable report from their medical staff.
The bottom line: Beyond the physical skills required for the job, the biggest reason rookie wide receivers often struggle in the NFL is they aren't prepared to deal with far more contact in their routes from defensive backs and far more press coverage overall.
They've spent college careers getting a free release against college defensive coordinators afraid to challenge them along the line of scrimmage. All of a sudden being "open" might be a half step when it used to be three yards and most players at the position simply don't make the adjustment all that quickly.
But Latimer plays a physical game -- his 23 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press at the combine was the best among the receivers -- and has the top-end speed that will make him one of the team's fastest players. Add in good hands, proficiency in the kinds of routes the Broncos like to use -- particularly slants as well as wide receiver screens -- and a willingness to work and you have a player who should earn premium snaps in the upcoming season.