The last time you saw South Carolina Gamecocks RB Marcus Lattimore, he was being carted off the field after suffering a gruesome right knee injury in a contest against the Tennessee Volunteers.
The next time you see Marcus Lattimore, he may just be at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, shaking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand as a potential first-round draft pick.
South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore will enter the NFL Draft; official announcement planned for this week.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 10, 2012
Let’s take a look at the long path and influences that have led Lattimore to throw his hat into the 2013 NFL draft ring.
Before Saturday, October 27, it seemed that the Gamecocks featured tailback was well on his way to completing a sterling true junior season, and would potentially declare for the NFL draft—which makes sense considering he was arguably the best eligible RB in the class.
However, everything changed after Lattimore took a simple handoff with 4:53 remaining in the second quarter of a Week 9 contest against the Vols.
The back gained about two yards before being wrapped up high by one tackler and getting his right knee absolutely annihilated by Tennessee DB Eric Gordon’s helmet.
This devastating hit ended Lattimore’s season and many thought his career was in jeopardy.
Immediately after Lattimore went down, both sidelines emptied and players poured onto the field to offer condolences to their fallen comrade. No one, not even the most hardcore Volunteer fans and meanest players, wanted to see the young man suffer like that.
The back was first rushed to the locker room, and then a hospital near Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.
For Lattimore and Gamecocks fans, the few days following the tragic knee injury were tough to stomach.
It wasn’t until the school announced that the knee was 'only' hyperextended and several ligaments were damaged that people began to imagine Lattimore would play organized football again.
An outpour of support for the injured RB came swiftly and from all over this great nation.
In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley declared Monday, Oct. 29, “Marcus Lattimore Day,” which coincided with the star’s 21st birthday.
While that may seem a bit tacky to some, it was a great gesture from the governor, who is apparently a staunch Clemson supporter—the other major football program in the state.
The USC Student Government Association held a celebration and rally that same day on campus, with university president Harris Pastides, coach Steve Spurrier and players on the team speaking prior to the entire crowd singing “Happy Birthday” in unison to their injured classmate, friend and football star.
Here’s an image of the sizeable crowd courtesy of WACH FOX’s Twitter feed:
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was also tremendously shaken by Lattimore’s injury, and was extremely candid about how sorry he felt for the injured back.
As per Kevin McCrarey of SportsTalkGoLive.com:
"Just absolutely took my breath away. I was watching it, and it breaks my heart. I am sorry for him and his family. This is a guy that represents all the good things that college football should be about. He is a class young man and so is his family and I know how hard he worked.”
Those are some heartfelt words from the coach of South Carolina’s biggest rival.
Well-wishes also extended far past the borders of the Palmetto State, as this Lexington, Ky., elementary school note proves (h/t Justin King via Twitter):
Inspiring note sent home with an Elem student in Lexington, KY. Shows how far the respect for Marcus Lattimore goes. twitter.com/JustinKing224/…— Justin King (@JustinKing224) November 1, 2012
A Midas station decided to change the statement on their marquee to offer support and a hopeful message (h/t It’sAlwaysSunnyinDetroit):
Other college players were paying attention, as an outpour of support came through on Twitter.
Texas A&M’s Heisman-winning QB, Johnny Manziel, was stunned:
Praying for Marcus Lattimore never want to see something like that happen in football— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) October 27, 2012
Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills had Lattimore in his prayers:
Prayers up for Marcus Lattimore—Kenny Stills (@KSTiLLS4) October 27, 2012
NFL stars also took notice, with the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III sending out this reminder:
We are warriors on the field, but are human as well. I pray everyone sends prayers forth for Marcus Lattimore & others that are injured— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) October 27, 2012
DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys called Lattimore the best RB in college football:
Praying for Marcus Lattimore. Hate to see the best RB in college go down. Keep ya head up my man!— DeMarco Murray (@DeMarcoMurray) October 27, 2012
And the Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson was clearly shaken by what he witnessed:
Thoughts and prayers go out to Marcus Lattimore. Wish him a speedy recovery a great young running back.— andre johnson (@johnson80) October 27, 2012
Even NBA champion and international superstar LeBron James took some time out of his day to wish the South Carolina back well:
Feel awful for Marcus Lattimore. Sad.Really hope he recovers fully!! #BigTimePlayer— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 28, 2012
With this outcry of support and positive prognosis, Lattimore had all the motivation he needed to succeed, and began working to get back into football shape.
When coach Spurrier spoke at the “Marcus Lattimore Day” birthday rally on the Columbia campus, he delivered a simple message directly from the star player:
“Tell them I’ll be back.”
According to Schad, the RB has been “vigorously” rehabilitating his ACL and lateral collateral ligament in his right knee and wants to be jogging and catching passes by March in front of NFL scouts.
Lattimore is also giving credit to the number of successful NFL backs who suffered serious injuries before the draft. Schad names Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Eddie George as the three the Duncan, S.C., native spoke with following his own personal knee problem.
McGahee was the first player that many viewers thought of upon viewing the Lattimore hit, as it was extremely similar and equally gruesome.
The current Denver Broncos star, then with the Miami Hurricanes, was on the receiving end of a brutal hit by an Ohio State defender in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (which doubled as the national title under the old BCS rules).
His left knee bent backwards and he suffered injuries to his ACL, PCL and MCL. Remarkably, McGahee went on to declare for the 2003 NFL draft and was selected No. 23 overall by the Buffalo Bills, even though he had to sit out the entirety of the 2003 season.
The 31-year-old has now seen action in 130 NFL games over nine seasons and will very likely return for a 10th in 2013.
Gore, another Miami star back, was injured after an incredible true freshman season (9.3 yards per carry), but tore an ACL before his sophomore year. He was able to come back to mediocre results in his junior year, and finally turned it on his senior year.
Teams were still wary of Gore in the draft, and he ended up going in the third round to the San Francisco 49ers. However, he’s since become arguably the best RB in franchise history and one of the more dominant backs in the NFL.
Seeing the success and getting advice from these professional stars was a great decision by Lattimore, who should now have even more motivation to rehabilitate and return to action.
Schad noted that the youngster isn’t using crutches anymore and is still right on schedule for a full recovery.
This is Lattimore’s second major rehab in as many years, and it’ll prove to everyone—including draft scouts—that he can bounce back from anything if he makes it through this.
If Lattimore can make a full recovery and shows enough to scouts by the start of the 2013 draft (April 25), there’s a strong chance he can still become a first-round pick.
There’s certainly a chance he misses his rookie season upon being drafted, but there’s nothing left for him to return to South Carolina for. Lattimore could only put what may be an extensive and decorated professional career at risk.
It’s an extremely weak draft for running backs (our own Matt Miller only has Geo Bernard, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell and Joseph Randle going in the first three rounds), and Lattimore’s upside is just too high to be ignored. Just take a peek at the highlights prior to his most recent, most serious injury:
However, we can’t see Lattimore being as fortunate as McGahee and landing in the first round, as this is the second major injury to the young back in as many years.
Yahoo! Sports’ Frank Schwab believes that his draft position will largely be dependent upon his medical evaluations at the combine—which begins on February 20.
“It will also be very difficult for a NFL team to invest a high pick in Lattimore after two major knee injuries (he tore his ACL in 2011 as well). The medical examinations at the scouting combine will be very important for Lattimore, as NFL teams try to determine how quickly Lattimore can return and if he can return to full speed.”
Michael David Smith of NBC’s Pro Football Talk thinks that the torn ACL he suffered back in 2011 will be what ultimately makes him a Day 2 or Day 3 player this March.
“That injury [the most recent] — combined with the fact that Lattimore previously had a torn ACL in his other knee — will surely make his draft stock slip”
Lattimore is a worthy second-round pick when considering his ability to recover and the considerable advancement of NFL rehabilitation over the past decade.
The only reason he’s not going to be selected in the first is that teams have been shying away from a featured-back system and instead use platoons to carry the ball. Lattimore, with his extensive history of injury, is unlikely to be considered for a full-time workload (a la Arian Foster or Trent Richardson).
Because of that, he’s certainly not worth using a coveted first-round selection on. Expect to see the young South Carolina star selected in the mid-to-late portions of the second round, even if it’s an established fact that he will not participate in the 2013 campaign.
We hope to see him back before 2014, but have a good feeling he’s going to take the NFL by storm once he’s able to suit up and get back on the gridiron.