2014 NFL draft: Cody Latimer, darkhorse for the Panthers pick

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There's one receiver Carolina has been looking at closer than the rest of the pack.

Staring at ranking tables and draft projections will often skew your view of the NFL draft. They're fun reference materials and ways to organize your thoughts, but too often we see teams believe in a player that falls outside the scope of normal thinking. It happened with E.J. Manuel last year and Bruce Irvin before that, now it could the the Panthers who are charged with "reaching" if they take Cody Latimer at No. 28.

Up to this point Latimer has been seen as a possibility in the second round, but Carolina's interest seems to extend far beyond a second day pick. That's why it's important to break down the receiver from Indiana

What do we know?

It's unclear when the Panthers first became interested in Latimer. He was unable to attend the scouting combine in February due to a foot injury, but met with the organization in early April.

Alarm bells should be going off right now. Sure it's wholly possible Indiana was simply one stop in Proehl's tour of wide receivers, but when the director of college scouting is accompanying you -- there's fire, not just smoke. Couple that with a night and day of meetings with the receiver and it's clear there's definite interest.

The Panthers used one of their official meetings to bring Latimer to Charlotte on Tuesday, which almost assuredly means he fulfilled what Proehl and Gregory were looking for in that meeting.

Why Latimer?

Carolina has met with many of the draft's top receivers but it's Latimer who appears to be garnering the most attention. It could be that he's somewhat of a mystery, though the intrigue is likely linked to one of these three factors.

1. Size + Athleticism

Outside of Kelvin Benjamin (who's extremely raw) there aren't many receivers in this year's draft with a combination of size and speed. Prospects tend to fall into one camp or the other, with supporting claims needing to be made off film to justify why their deficiencies aren't there.

Latimer slots in perfectly at 6'3 and his 215 pound frame looks purpose built for the NFL. He's big, strong and can take a hit. He followed this up by running a 4.39 forty at Indiana's pro day and posted a 39" vertical -- both exceeded projections.

2. Latimer's problems are easily solved

I've often said that my personal approach to evaluating wide receivers is largely based on separation and how they get it. My philosophy is that receivers achieve this three ways: Size, speed and route running. Perform one of these at an elite level and you'll be an early draft pick, have two and you'll be a star.

Latimer doesn't jump off the screen in his film for two reasons: Firstly it's unclear if he has the top-end speed to gain separation that way, secondly his route running is a little sloppy. He tends to round out his cuts on short patterns, which will be eaten alive at the NFL level.

That said, Kawann Short never really leaped off the film either. Sure evaluating a receiver against a defensive tackle is dumb, but it's an example of how he was misused at Purdue and the Panthers saw that he could drop weight and become faster.

Proehl should be able to assist with the route running in short order, much the same way he did with Keenan Allen during the pre-draft process last year. If Latimer's speed is better indicated by his time at the Indiana Pro Day then he could become a rare player.

3. It's safe

Watching Latimer you see a guy who probably won't fail at the NFL level. Sure, he may wind up never being anything special -- but the bust potential is pretty low here. Obviously you want an elite top-level receiver if you spend an early pick, but at worst I see him being a mid-tier No. 2.

That's an enticing prospect for a team in dire need of sure things at receiver. The allure of swinging for the fences is strong, but often the picks that don't leap off the page tend to be the right ones.

So, where does he go?

This is the million dollar question. Personally, I don't see a guy who's going to last deep into the second round or even midway through the second round. Draft projections currently have him in the 2-3 round range, but upside and potential are high, paired with immediate impact.

The top level guys will likely go earlier, but as a complete receiver I put Latimer somewhere in the 5-7 range in prospect rankings. As far as I'm concerned it's hard to say Allen Robinson or Jordan Mathews are vastly better than Latimer in similar positions.

Ultimately this leads to the big question: "Could he be the No. 28 pick?"

That all depends on how much the Panthers believe in him, and right now the answer seems to be "a lot."

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