"NFL doctors will be shocked, I can tell you that."
Those the confident words of running back Marcus Lattimore on the University of South Carolina's "Inside the Roost" radio show just a little over three months removed from a comprehensive knee surgery done by renowned doctor James Andrews that repaired his previously torn MCL, LCL and PCL.
The injury Lattimore suffered in an October 27 game against the Tennessee Volunteers was far more horrific and certainly more serious than the ACL tear he experienced on October 15 of 2011 against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
But multiple knee ligament tears (on both his left and right knee) doesn't mean the gracefully thunderous running back will fail to make it at the professional ranks.
Two rather accomplished NFL running backs, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, guys with similar running styles to that of Lattimore, labored through devastating knee injuries of their own in college prior to entering the draft.
McGahee's injury was nearly identical to Lattimore's: a total shredding of the knee—torn ACL and MCL.
It was initially thought that the PCL was also torn, but ESPN reported there to be "no tear to the posterior collateral ligament."
The following was written by ESPN's Len Pasquarelli before the 2003 draft:
McGahee displayed a range of motion and flexibility and movement skill typically impossible for a player less than four months removed from a catastrophic knee injury.
In what was his first and only audition for league talent evaluators before this weekend's draft, McGahee, who tore three knee ligaments in his left knee during the final minutes of the Fiesta Bowl, did not perform a full-scale workout.
McGahee was somewhat surprisingly taken by the Buffalo Bills in the first round (No. 23 overall) of the 2003 draft.
Because of the inherent risk that came with selecting him so early, and the fact that Travis Henry was the team's productive feature back at the time, the Bills decided to keep McGahee on the sidelines for the entire 2003 regular season.
In 2004, at 23 years of age, McGahee finally ran on NFL grass.
He accumulated 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns at four yards per carry.
It's worth noting that despite McGahee's relatively sustained success as a professional, he never was quite as explosive in the NFL as he was in college.
Gore, McGahee's teammate at Miami, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee before the spring practice in 2002 after a stellar true freshman season with the Hurricanes in 2001 in which he ran for 562 yards at a ridiculous 9.1 yards-per-carry clip.
After missing the 2002 regular season, the one in which McGahee burst onto the national scene, Gore returned in 2003, only to tear his right ACL in an October 2 win over West Virginia.
While Gore's ACL tears weren't as significantly damaging as McGahee's, he was picked in the third round of the 2005 draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Gore's slow 40-time by running back standards—4.66—may have played a role in his plummet to the third round.
As a rookie, Gore led the 49ers with 608 yards rushing and blew up in 2006, totaling nearly 1,700 yards on the ground at 5.4 yards per carry.
Since then, he has eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in five of the last six seasons.
The tales of those two runners should give Lattimore plenty of reason to feel encouraged and stay positive.
Oh, and there's that Adrian Peterson fella. You know, the league MVP. He shredded his knee on Christmas Eve in 2011, was ready for Week 1 in 2012 and pieced together, arguably, the greatest running back season in NFL history.
In an email exchange with Bleacher Report Sports Injury Lead Writer Will Carroll, he discussed the truth behind Lattimore's injury and subsequent recovery period:
Let's stop using the word "miracle" about Marcus Lattimore. His recovery from his devastating multi-structure knee injury is amazing, but it's science. Lattimore had his knee reconstructed by some of the best surgeons around and his rehab is being handled by some of the best therapists using the most advanced protocols. Again, it's great, but calling it a miracle demeans the hard work of those medical professionals as well as Lattimore himself.Lattimore comes to Indianapolis well ahead of expectations. One report from Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, has him as three months ahead of schedule. Just seeing him walk into a room for an interview without a limp is going to impress some teams. "I want to see it for myself," one front office type told me. "I've read the reports, I've seen the news, but I want to see the kid walk in the room." That powerful image is going to help Lattimore immensely.
But if it does help Lattimore, when will he be taken in the 2013 draft, and when will he be able to contribute to an NFL team?
This Lattimore quote came from Jeff Darlington of NFL.com's feature on the running back: "Man, I honestly feel like I can play this year. I know my body. I know if I'm progressing the way I am, I'll be ready to play. I won't have to sit out a year."
It's not inconceivable that Lattimore could be healthy enough to play in 2013, albeit maybe not at the beginning of the regular season.
A recent USA TODAY article by Robert Klemko, which documented Lattimore's recovery to date, stated: "Andrews says he's (Lattimore) three months ahead of schedule in his recovery and has gained 20 pounds of muscle. The surgeon maintains it's possible Lattimore could play in 2013."
Ultimately, the running back situation of the team that drafts him will likely play a major role in determining when Lattimore steps onto an NFL field.
He's young; Dr. Andrews repaired his knee, and Lattimore appears to be devoted to a Petersonian-type recovery.
However, if Lattimore is selected by a team with an established rotation of running backs, there's a good chance that organization will err on the side of caution and keep the talented runner off the field as long as possible.
Even if he is picked by a team that could use a boost in the running game, it seems unlikely that they'd rush Lattimore back, especially early in the season.
Recently, we've witnessed marquee running backs return from gruesome knee injuries much faster than expected and produce at a high level.
Marcus Lattimore should be able to do the same and contribute on an NFL team at some point during 2013.
After his comeback at South Carolina from his first knee ligament tear, really, another comeback wouldn't be shocking at all.
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