For the Denver Broncos, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team remains who will carry the workload at tailback in 2013.
Knowshon Moreno, who started in place of the injured Willis McGahee, underwent surgery on his knee at the end of the 2012 season. McGahee has had ankle surgery recently. Both carry high price tags in 2013, and it can be argued that one or both may not be with the Broncos next season.
Ronnie Hillman didn’t show the explosive spark that John Elway and head coach John Fox expected to see out of him in 2012. He also struggled to pick up his pass protection responsibilities when he was in the game.
Beyond Hillman, there is Lance Ball, who hasn’t proven to be much more than a special teams contributor.
Mario Fannin, coming into his third year, played mostly on the practice squad as a rookie and spent 2012 on injured reserve. He will get another chance this season to compete at running back if he can stay healthy. Fox is high on him and hopes that he will make an impact in 2013. However, as of yet, he has proven little to be able to contribute during his time with the Broncos.
Marcus Lattimore out of South Carolina has been one of numerous running backs who have been floated by fans at the office water cooler a number of times as the next Adrian Peterson, or as Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post points out, reminiscent of Willis McGahee coming into his rookie season in 2003 after suffering a serious knee injury. McGahee sat out all of that season recovering.
When referring to his situation being similar to that of Denver’s McGahee, Lattimore told reporters,
“As you know, he had a similar injury, pretty much the same kind of injury. He’s helped me a lot. Guys always bring that up when I come in there and talk to them. Willis came back from it, Frank Gore—(a) bunch of guys. He’s a guy that worked hard. That’s what I’m going to do, and trust in God. I haven’t talked to (McGahee) lately, but I’ve talked to him a bunch of times. He just tells me, ‘Keep grinding. Keep doing what you’re doing. Trust in God. You’re going to be fine. You’ll come back from it.’”
Lattimore is indeed a hard worker who has already proven once that he can return from a serious injury. He’s also very optimistic. He puts in the work to get to the place he wants to be; however, two major knee injuries is just too risky for a rookie running back, a position that routinely suffers the most abuse.
When healthy, Lattimore was one of the most explosive players in college football. But his final two seasons at South Carolina both ended with serious knee injuries requiring major surgeries.
For the Broncos, Lattimore would be likely a better version of Ronnie Hillman. Fast, slender and dynamic in the open field, he has also shown an ability to finish runs with power. However, he struggles in pass protection and would be more of a situational back instead of a feature back.
If the Broncos intend to spend some of their valuable draft capital on a running back, they need someone who they can count on for three to five years as a feature back to pick up the load. Lattimore is not that guy. Don’t get me wrong—I love the guy and very well expect him to be successful in the NFL. He has lots of character, hard work and upside, but he isn’t the long-term answer for the Broncos.
Despite the Broncos’ obvious need, Lattimore is just not worth the risk.