With just a few days left to go before the NFL Draft, I don’t know which team is going to draft former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, and I don’t know where in the draft that team is going to pick him. But what I do know is that whichever team drafts him is going to have a major steal on their hands. With the injury he suffered last fall, it’s easy to see why teams would view him as a risky draft pick. But if you knew the kind of person and player that Lattimore is, drafting him wouldn’t seem so risky; in fact, it would seem like a great idea.
Lattimore burst onto the scene in 2010, taking the SEC by storm in a way few true freshman running backs had done before, rushing for nearly 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns. At that point, he already looked the part of an NFL running back, showcasing such power and strength, as well as a great burst through the line of scrimmage and change of direction. Lattimore also showed what a workhorse he was, able to take a seemingly unlimited number of carries per game. If he could have gone to the NFL at that point, it’s possible that he would have been the first running back drafted.
But then the injuries came. Midway through a stellar sophomore season he suffered a serious knee injury while unselfishly blocking for his teammates downfield, which ended his season despite being among the nation’s leading rushers up to that point. Lattimore endured a long rehab process, but got back in time for the start of the 2012 season. But just as he was starting to look like his old self and was re-establishing himself as one of the elite running backs in the country and a potential first round draft pick, Lattimore suffered another devastating injury, far worse than the one he suffered the previous season. The tear of several knee ligaments ended his 2012 season and put his entire football future in jeopardy.
Lattimore has made the wise choice to leave school in order to focus on his rehab and the NFL Draft, but there is no guarantee he’ll be able to participate in the 2013 season, which has caused his draft stock to drop. Although there are real concerns about Lattimore’s health, that should not stop a team from drafting him as one of the first running backs selected. He is a high character person and his work ethic is unquestionable, meaning he will do whatever it takes to rehab his knee get back on the field.
Even if he were to miss the entire 2013 season, the talent he has when healthy would be worth the wait. It’s not as if he’s the only running back to suffer an injury at the end of his college career and have a successful NFL career. Willis McGahee suffered a similarly devastating knee injury even later in his final college season than Lattimore, and after sitting out his rookie season McGahee has become a productive runner, gone to multiple Pro-Bowls, and is still going strong, even in his 30’s; so there is precedent for a recovery from such a serious knee injury.
While Lattimore may be far from an ideal draft selection coming off such a serious knee injury and with his status for the upcoming year in question, if there’s anybody that can recover and go on to have a successful career in the NFL, it’s Lattimore. He has the work ethic and the drive to get back to full strength and the talent to become one of the top running backs in the league. In the end, he won’t get drafted as high as he deserves to be drafted, but one lucky team out there is going to get a major steal when they draft Lattimore; I know that for sure.