There are few players in this year's draft that people want to see succeed in the NFL more than Marcus Lattimore. The South Carolina running back has as much talent as anyone available, but after season-ending knee injuries in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he has major durability issues.
The questions surrounding Lattmiore are simple—do you trust he'll stay healthy and justify the draft pick used to select him? Is his talent worth the risk?
Those are questions for NFL front offices, however, and likely teams that don't need to stock up on players that can start immediately. For now, let's break down Lattimore's game and offer some predictions on where he'll be drafted.
Lattimore hit the ground running in his freshman season, rushing for 1,197 yards and 19 scores.
He brought Heisman aspirations into his sophomore campaign, with 818 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns in seven games, but he season ended short after he tore his ACL in his left knee in a game against Mississippi State.
The song remained the same in 2012, as Lattimore rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games before tearing three ligaments and dislocating his right kneecap in a game against Tennessee that ended his college career.
Let's start with Lattimore's weaknesses, of which there seem to be only two—his obvious durability concerns and his lack of top-end speed or acceleration.
At the NFL level, I don't think Lattimore is going to be a home-run hitter, but rather a player who turns two-yard losses into two-yard gains or five-yard runs into 15-yard scampers. He'll earn his longer runs the old-fashioned way by evading or breaking tackles, similar to an Emmitt Smith or Frank Gore.
A popular comparison is Arian Foster, since Lattimore has a somewhat upright running style, is physical enough to easily shed tackles and is an assertive, downhill runner once he identifies the hole.
But I also see some of LeSean McCoy in Lattimore, as the South Carolina running back has solid lateral agility and very good balance.
He'll do the little things as well, such as giving full effort in pass protection. And he's a solid option in the passing game, meaning he's a three-down back in the NFL.
Lattimore is a playmaker that combines plus size, an aggressive running style and enough agility to make defenders miss. If he can stay healthy, he should be very effective at the next level.
NFL Draft Projections
Given that he's had knee injuries in consecutive seasons, I don't think there's any chance Lattimore is selected before the third round.
As Todd McShay notes above, the fourth round seems a realistic projection, especially for deeper teams that would be drafting for value and could ease him into the game plan to ensure his knee was fully rehabilitated.
And Bleacher Report's draft guru, Matt Miller, is projecting him to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round with the No. 79 pick.
But I will say this—if I were a front office guy or coach in the NFL, Lattimore is a guy I would want on my team. He gets it, and his work ethic or resilience shouldn't be questioned. Just take a look at his interview with Jon Gruden.
That, right there, is a guy that is guaranteed to give you everything he has. If you are willing to gamble on his knee issues, you'll get a very good player.
And a human being worth rooting for.