It's not that often that a college football player gets an ovation just for showing up at his school's pro day.
Of course, not every college football player is South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
The 5'11", 221-pound junior, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman, was widely considered the top running back in the nation entering the 2012 season, even though his 2011 campaign was cut short by a knee injury.
Then, in an October 27 game against Tennessee, catastrophe struck.
Lattimore suffered as severe a knee injury as you'll ever see in that game, shredding his ACL, LCL and PCL. It was the fact that Lattimore was able to work out at all, less than six months removed from that injury, that had NFL scouts cheering Lattimore at South Carolina's pro day.
Robert Klemko @RobertKlemko
Marcus Lattimore worked out for reps from 32 teams today at SC. Room burst into applause when he was done. http://t.co/c7t5EPAMxb3/27/2013, 6:29:19 PM
Those applause certainly weren't lost on Lattimore, who told Robert Klemko of USA Today Sports that "It was crazy. I did not expect that at all. Pretty much every scout came up to me and said that was amazing and inspiring."
Lattimore, whose knee was repaired by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, told Bleacher Report that he's been inspired by and communicated with Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, whose collegiate career was ended by a very similar injury.
Lattimore also told Klemko that he has every intention of making an impact in the National Football League as a rookie, and the workout was his way of backing up that claim.
"I just wanted to do something before the draft, and I felt like this was good because I was just doing my rehab," he said. "My agent thought it was a good idea. He didn't feel it mattered if we did, but I wanted to do it. The goal is to be ready. You never know what will happen. I'll probably have to slow down a little bit. No doubt if not the beginning of the season, (then) the middle of the season."
Lattimore's agent may not have felt the workout was necessary, but as Bleacher Report NFL lead writer Matt Miller relayed at least one scout came away very impressed.
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Spoke with NFL personnel guy who was at Marcus Lattimore workout. Said he looks better than every back in this class.3/27/2013, 7:08:37 PM
The looming question now, of course, is what effect this workout, and Lattimore's remarkable recovery to this point, have had on his draft stock.
From a pure talent standpoint, that NFL personnel guy is absolutely right.
Entering 2012, there wasn't a running back in college football that screamed "NFL workhorse" more than Lattimore, and while Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Sigmund Bloom pointed out in his scouting report that Lattimore doesn't have elite speed, he also noted that Lattimore's game is greater than the sum of its parts:
At 5'11" 221 pounds, Lattimore has the ideal build for an NFL feature back, with a strong lower body and big 9 7/8" hands. He didn't work out at the combine because of his knee injury, but he looks like a low 4.5-40 runner on film, one who lacks breakaway speed but still has a good initial burst. He is not a sudden or elusive back, but he knows how to deflect off of contact and otherwise defeat a tackler in the open field. While he is not a flashy "toolsy" back, the sum of Lattimore's game is much more than the physical parts.
NFL.com echoes those sentiments in their scouting report on Lattimore, comparing him to Arian Foster of the Houston Texans while pointing out the elephant in the room:
Lattimore offers an extremely intriguing blend of power, balance, vision and production. However, it's hard not to question his future durability and how much of the same player he will be going forward after major injuries to both knees in consecutive seasons.
And there it is. There's just no getting around the fact that for as talented and hardworking as Lattimore may be, he's suffered significant knee injuries in back-to-back years.
There may well be no bigger risk/reward pick in the entire 2013 NFL draft. The team that rolls the dice on Lattimore could be getting a starter for years to come, or just as easily wind up with a player whose balky knees just won't allow him to contribute much at the professional level.
It's worth noting that after McGahee's injury, the Buffalo Bills gambled on him with the 23rd pick in the 2003 NFL draft. McGahee didn't play at all as a rookie, but he rewarded the Bills with 1,000-yard seasons the two years after that.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier apparently sees a similar career path for Lattimore, telling Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com that Lattimore "may have jumped into the first round" after his workout.
That viewpoint may be a touch on the optimistic side, but in a fairly weak class at running back, it wouldn't be a complete shock to see Lattimore selected in the second round, and some NFL team will all but certainly gamble on him in the third given his pro day showing.
According to Rosenthal, for Lattimore that's just the beginning. "I want to be an inspiration," Lattimore said. "To let people know that with hard work, and when you trust in God, you can come back from anything and do anything."
Given how far he's already come, I wouldn't bet against him.
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