Marcus Lattimore: How Loss of South Carolina's Top Back Shakes Up 2013 NFL Draft
Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE
In one agonizing hit, the entire 2013 NFL draft may have changed forever.
Just a year after tearing his left ACL, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered one of the most gruesome injuries you'll ever see in any sport.
Speculation immediately arose about the severity of his injury, and with the way it looked, it appeared anything from a torn ACL to a broken femur could be the culprit.
According to the Associated Press (via Fox Sports), Steve Spurrier said his star running back dislocated his right knee. Despite that terrible news, though, Lattimore's football career is anything but over.
What is over, however, is any NFL team's dream of making the All-American its first-round pick in 2013.
Although he hadn't dominated like he did as a freshman when he rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns, the 6'0", 218-pounder was still the highest-rated back on most draft sites.
His combination of power, vision and production would have secured him a spot in the first round, and he likely would have been selected in the first 25 picks even after coming back from a torn left ACL suffered in 2011.
Though a notch below Trent Richardson in the speed department, Lattimore certainly has the makeup of a franchise back.
Assuming Lattimore suffered significant damage beyond dislocating his knee, the junior should take a redshirt next year and try to rehabilitate both his knee and draft stock for 2014.
With him out of the picture, April's draft just got a whole lot murkier at the running back position.
No other running back carries a consensus first-round grade, although there is certainly plenty of talent at the position.
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One player who stands to rise up draft boards is Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle.
The 6'0", 200-pound junior is viewed as a second or third-round pick, but could see his value rise due to the lack of top-end talent. Randle may not carry the name recognition of Lattimore or Alabama's Eddie Lacy, but his production speaks for itself.
Ever since stepping foot on campus, the Kansas native has been an electric playmaker for the Cowboys. As a freshman, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and caught 37 passes for 427 yards.
Last year he broke out for 1,216 rushing yards and an eye-popping 24 touchdowns. He's continued that robust production this year, rushing for 891 yards and nine touchdowns through just seven games.
For a team looking for a true three-down back, Randle just got a whole lot more appealing on Day 2.
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Besides the multi-dimensional Randle, Florida's Mike Gillislee could be an intriguing fallback option for teams that had visions of Lattimore carrying the rock.
After sitting behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps for three years, the 5'11", 209-pounder has grasped the starting job and has been the most valuable weapon for an inconsistent Florida offense.
Although he's struggled in his last three outings, Gillislee still ranks fourth in the SEC with 729 rushing yards. The senior doesn't stand out in one area, but is a solid back who knows how to catch the ball, run between the tackles and turn on the burners along the perimeter.
Gillislee's strong senior season has elevated his draft stock from a late-rounder to a possible second- or third-round selection. With Lattimore gone, Gillislee—who's been very productive in a rugged SEC—should appeal to teams looking for a running back early.
While Lattimore's injury should help drive the draft stock of guys like Randle and Gillislee, it also all but assures the fact that no running back will be taken in the first round.
Besides the Gamecocks' top back, no other draft-eligible ball-carrier exhibited the skills worthy of a first-round pick, and his loss should only increase the demand for valued positions, particularly with a deep group of pass-rushers.
Lattimore's season may have ended, but his NFL future hasn't.
We'll all just have to wait another year.
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