This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
The Denver Broncos are planning ahead. Considering they already experience loss via free agency on the offensive side of the ball this year, it’s only natural to think they might have a quite the problem on their hands come 2015.
After all, that’s when slot man Wes Welker, star number one wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and explosive tight end Julius Thomas all hit the open market. Last time the Broncos had two big names on offense hit free agency (number two receiver Eric Decker and starting running back Knowshon Moreno), they both left for the AFC East.
As the true number one wide receiver and easily one of the best wideouts in the entire league, Demaryius Thomas is going to be by far Denver’s top priority. He’ll get locked up to a pricey, long-term deal, and then Denver will be forced to make a choice: pay up for their young, athletic tight end, or try to keep an aging slot receiver around.
That choice will likely be pretty easy. However, even if it’s not, the addition of burner Cody Latimer via the 2014 NFL Draft should help ease concerns of Denver losing another quality receiving threat.
Latimer’s mere presence and upside should combine with Emmanuel Sanders (if he doesn’t prove to be a free agent bust) to make the then 34-year old Welker expendable. Neither may be the safe option out of the slot that Welker is, but giving age and the increasing likelihood of an injury, it’s a decision the Denver brass will probably be forced to make. Even aside from age and injury, the Broncos will also have to acknowledge that they just might not be able to afford Welker, even if they wanted to keep him around. Should Welker be willing to take a paycut, perhaps he’d stick in Denver for the remainder of his career, but we need to assume that won’t be the case.
Julius Thomas would probably cost a pretty penny to stick in town, but he’d be worth a solid deal as he really changes the dynamic of Denver’s offense. He helps stretch the field and take the defense’s focus off of Demaryius and the running game, while he’s also simply a very difficult matchup.
What is this all leading to? Why, Cody Latimer’s fantasy football value, of course.
The situation described that is almost surely to unfold during free agency next offseason will set up Latimer’s 2015 and long-term value. Needless to say, in at most one NFL season, he’s going to be a potential stud and needs to be drafted early in Dynasty leagues.
Adding to Latimer’s long-term appeal, as well, is the very possible notion of the recently signed Emmanuel Sanders not panning out. Thanks to a sketchy history of injuries and inconsistency, it’s extremely possible, if not likely, that Sanders will disappoint. If that happens, Denver could decide to scrap him and/or Welker. Either way, the younger and more explosive Latimer would suddenly be looking at an elite role in an elite offense.
Of course, describing Latimer’s long-term fantasy value as anything close to elite probably hinges to the then 39-year old Manning returning for the 2015 season, if not the 2016 season, as well. Quite obviously, going from Manning to someone like Brock Osweiler would provide a dramatic hit to Latimer’s upside, as well as everyone else in Denver.
Let’s try to focus on the good. As it stands, Latimer is a monster Dynasty value a year from now.
But what if he gets there in 2014? That’s where fantasy owners drafting this summer for this year need to start taking a closer look at his talent and surroundings for the here and now. Think about it; if Denver can be anywhere near as good as they were in 2013, even their fourth wide receiver might have some value.
Obviously being the fourth option for his entire rookie season isn’t ideal and doesn’t offer much upside. He’d be a WR5 at best, even if he could do a little better than Andre Caldwell did last year in that same role.
For Latimer to pay off this year, he’d need to worm his way into the top three wide receiver spots. To do that, he’s either going to need to absolutely amazing in camp and preseason, or he’ll need an injury to help provide a boost.
Given Welker’s concussion woes from 2013 and Emmanuel Sanders’ own checkered injury history, the latter seems entirely possible. And given Latimer’s explosive speed and playmaking ability, the former could happen, as well.
This is all just speculation considering it’s still only the month of May, but word on the street via the Denver Post suggests the Indiana product could vie for a big role right away as a rookie.
This could easily be hearsay, coach speak or classic media hype, but considering the guy was an early round pick and two of Manning’s receivers do have some question marks, we can’t dismiss it outright, either.
If he is in fact thrust into a big role, just imagine how good Latimer could be as a rookie. Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno all hauled in 60 or more receptions a year ago. Decker and Demaryius Thomas both caught over 80, and Welker had over 70. Add in the fact that Thomas and Welker missed a combined five games, and these stats are even more impressive.
The point? Denver not only passes a lot and gets fantasy owners excellent numbers, but they tend to get everyone involved. The year before, it was still Demaryius and Decker killing it, but Manning also got his running backs and tight ends the ball, as well.
Even more interesting is the fact that defenses can never really predict who is going to crush it for the Broncos week to week. They have so much talent at so many different spots, that they can almost just throw a quarter up in the air to help decide who is going off that week.
We also all knew Demaryius Thomas and Decker would be good going into 2013. But we didn’t expect Welker to cut into their targets quite as much as he did, nor did we really have any clue that Julius Thomas would be such a factor.
This is why we can’t just keep Latimer on our radar, but we probably have to stash him late in drafts if at all possible. And if his stock is visibly soaring, we might even have to reach for him a bit in drafts.
For now, we can only go off of what we know. What we know is that Welker is 33 and entering a contract season and Sanders didn’t have anything close to a “good” NFL season until his final season in Pittsburgh, which just so happened to be a contract year.
It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that the Broncos would wisely allow Latimer to split time at the third receiver spot with Sanders, as well as rotate the aging Welker out more than they normally would. The more that happens, the more valuable Latimer would become.
Until we know something more concrete in regards to Latimer’s fantasy value, we have to look at him as a WR4. Just know that he’s oozing more potential that the regular talented rookie thanks to the offense he’ll be operating in.