The NFL season isn't over yet, but talk of the 2013 NFL draft is already heating up. With the nation's top running back, Marcus Lattimore, reportedly entering the class, how will NFL teams view his stock?
The biggest concern with Lattimore's stock is the fact that he's coming off a gruesome knee injury suffered against Tennessee on October 27. This is Lattimore's second knee surgery in as many years, putting him in a category with Willis McGahee and Frank Gore as high-level talents who saw their college years cut short by injury.
McGahee and Gore went on to be drafted in the first and third rounds, respectively, which sets the bar for where Lattimore can hope to be drafted—but is that realistic?
Lattimore suffered his latest injury in late October. By comparison, McGahee had his second knee injury in the National Championship Game, which offered him less time to recover than Lattimore will have.
Gore went down with a second knee injury in 2003, but he recovered in time to play in the 2004 season. Both players can serve as mentors for Lattimore as he attempts his own recovery, but perhaps a more recent running back can offer a better picture into Lattimore's potential.
Adrian Peterson is 50 weeks removed from his own knee surgery, and he currently leads the NFL in rushing and is legitimately chasing the single-season rushing record. NFL teams will have Peterson in mind when they see Lattimore's powerful running style and all-around ability, and Lattimore will hope that they have Peterson's knee in mind when they are considering where to draft him.
It's unknown now whether Lattimore will even be able to jog for scouts at the NFL scouting combine in late February, but it seems incredibly doubtful. Lattimore will still be in attendance to take other tests and receive an all-important MRI.
If Lattimore can convince team doctors that he'll be a quick healer—and he was with his first knee injury—then it stands to reason that he could see himself drafted in the second or third round of the 2013 NFL draft by a team with the patience to let him sit out for at least part of the upcoming season.
The positives to Lattimore's game are many. He's a big back at 6'0" and nearly 225 pounds, but he also has good change-of-direction skills. The South Carolina offense became more dynamic this season, and head coach Steve Spurrier asked Lattimore to do more on stretch plays. These plays are straight out of an NFL playbook, and they ask Lattimore to do more than simply run past defenders. Instead, he's now looking for openings and learning to be patient.
As Lattimore's vision has developed, his all-around game has become top-notch. So many college running backs run as fast as they can to the sideline and then look to break upfield, but Lattimore's ability to find holes and turn his shoulders to get upfield makes him a rare back in a pretty solid class of runners.
Had it not been for injuries suffered in the 2011 season, Lattimore would have been in position to challenge Trent Richardson as the best back in college football. Now he's hit a road block, but Lattimore has shown a determination to succeed. The talent is there, he just needs an NFL team to take a chance on his recovery.