ENGLEWOOD — John Elway took a break from his defensive rebuilding project Friday night to give Peyton Manning another big target.
Denver’s general manager selected Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the NFL draft, moving up six spots in a trade with San Francisco to take the 6-foot-2½-inch, 215-pounder with the 56th overall pick.
“He’s a big, tough, strong receiver who can catch the ball and is physical in the run game,” Elway said. “We thought he was going to go a lot earlier than he did, so when he was finally there we couldn’t wait any longer.”
Latimer is a two-time All-Big Ten selection who finished his three-year college career with 135 catches, 2,152 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He’s the perfect present for Manning, who set NFL records last season by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,447 yards with the highest-scoring team in league history.
“This is going to be awesome (to) get to play with a record-setting offense,” Latimer said. “I came from an offense that was powerful and record-setting at IU. I hope to add on to this offense, contribute the best way I can.”
Despite becoming the first team in league history to score more than 600 points, the Broncos surrendered a whopping 24.9 points a game — 25.3 if you count the playoffs — and Elway focused on fixing his defense following Denver’s blowout loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
He added defenders T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib in free agency and then used his first-round pick on Ohio State star cornerback Bradley Roby on Thursday night.
Also in free agency, Elway replaced wide receiver Eric Decker, who joined the Jets, with the speedy Emmanuel Sanders from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and now Latimer joins a group that also features Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Bubba Caldwell and tight end Julius Thomas.
Both Thomases and Welker are entering the final year of their contracts in 2014, and Elway spoke at the NFL combine about the Thomases being priorities next offseason.
Latimer’s draft stock soared when he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and posted a vertical jump of 39 inches on his pro day, then added 23 reps on the bench press at the combine.
He was one of the players on hand at Radio City Music Hall but dropped into the latter half of the second round.
“It was a long wait,” Latimer said, “but it was well worth the wait.”
He said he’s looking forward to playing with the notoriously demanding Manning.
“He’s going to make sure I’m in the right place to make plays and I’m going to make the plays for him,” Latimer said. “It’s going to be a great combination. I’m happy to be a part of this.”
Latimer isn’t only big, he’s brash. After tearing up the Big Ten, he said, “I’m going to do the same thing, come in and dominate in the NFL.”
One of the cornerbacks he faced in college was his new teammate Roby, but he demurred when asked who was better.
“He’s a great corner. He’s going to help me a lot and then I’m going to help him a lot,” Latimer said. “We’re going to be battling every day and it’s going to make us great.”