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BLOOMINGTON -- If you believe Mel Kiper Jr., Indiana receiver Cody Latimer is going to have a great NFL Draft opening night.
Because the ESPN analyst says Latimer, who passed up his final year of college for this opportunity, has all the necessary skills for big-time success. In other words, he's a first-round kind of guy.
"When you're 6-2 1/2, you're 225 pounds, you run a (4.38-second 40-yard dash), you're one of the strongest wide receivers you'll ever come across, and you have real good hands and natural pass receiving skills, that's going to push you up," Kiper said during a recent conference call.
NFL officials were impressed enough to invite Latimer to New York City for the NFL Draft's May 8 opening night. He's one of 30 to be invited.
“He's a dynamic athlete. He moves very well. He has great agility and acceleration,” NFLDraftscout.com analyst Rob Rang said via a CBSSports.com video. “He's more physical than you'd expect. He'll be very intriguing to West Coast offense teams.”
Rang thinks Latimer would be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers.
A few weeks ago, Latimer had the look of a third-round pick at best (courtesy of the NFL Draft Advisory Committee), with a fourth- or fifth-round pick more likely (according to NFLDraftscout.com). A foot injury kept him out of any running drills and tests during February's NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Then Latimer ran a blazing 4.38-second 40-yard dash during IU's Pro Day last month. That left scouts buzzing -- only two receivers at the Combine ran faster, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (4.33) and Pittsburgh State's John Brown (4.34) -- and put Latimer on an upward fast track. Add his bench-press performance at the Combine (he led all receivers by benching 225 pounds 23 times), his 39-inch vertical jump and his impressive Indiana numbers (72 catches, 1,096 yards, nine touchdowns last season) and you have a late first-round prospect, Kiper said.
“The fact that he has the physicality, the hands, he's run well, he's back to where he needs to be physically, I think that's all come together for Latimer, and that's great to see," Kiper said.
“I'd be shocked if he didn't go in the first round.”
Kiper thinks the New Orleans Saints will take Latimer with the No. 27 pick.
NFLDraftscout.com now rates Latimer as the draft's No. 13 wide receiver. The top two receivers are Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Clemson's Sammy Watkins. They also are invited to New York, along with three other receivers: USC's Marquise Lee, Louisiana State's Odell Beckham and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews.
Latimer has drawn extra attention from scouts for St. Louis, Philadelphia, Carolina, Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle, Oakland, San Diego and Washington.
“I think people are saying right now that with another year, he could've been a top 10 to 15 guy," Kiper said. "Right now, you're projecting him at No. 22 to No. 32. You look at 22 to Philadelphia, 23 to Kansas City, 25 San Diego, 26 Cleveland, 27 New Orleans, 28 Carolina, 30 San Francisco, a lot of teams need wide receivers in that range.”
Wherever he ends up, Latimer said, and whatever role he gets, he will be ready.
“I'm willing to block,” he said. “They love that I played special teams at Indiana. It shows I can throw my body around, make tackles, do what it takes to win.”