Marcus Lattimore's Upside Makes College Star Intriguing Mid-Round Draft Option

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 29: Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks breaks free from Mikie Benton #31 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half of play at Commonwealth Stadium on September 29, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
John Sommers II/Getty Images

Marcus Lattimore is the most talented running back in the 2013 NFL draft. While the South Carolina star's mounting injury history means selecting him comes with risk, the potential he still possesses makes him worth selecting in the middle rounds.

In 2011, Lattimore had his season cut short by an injury to his left knee. He worked all the way back for his junior season only the suffer another setback. This time he injured his right knee, which required his ACL, LCL and PCL to get repaired.

Coming back from one knee injury is hard enough for a running back. Doing it in back-to-back years after issues with both knees is something that's always going to raise red flags when teams are evaluating prospects.

That said, his ability to bounce back in such an impressive manner last season is something teams should consider. He scored 11 touchdowns in nine games before getting hurt again, which is the type of top-end production he's consistently shown he can provide.

Lattimore rushed for nearly 2,700 yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons with the Gamecocks. He did it with a tremendous combination of power and vision, which more than made up for his lack of elite natural speed.

He showcased the ability to make quick cuts, rarely hesitated in the backfield and was more than willing to take a big hit if it meant picking up a first down. He was the type of player who could carry the load and would have made a smooth transition to the NFL.

How that transition will go now that he's working his way back from a serious injury is anybody's guess. It's also why he's still on the board after the first round, which didn't see a single rusher come off the board.

Yet, his comments when Jeff Darlington of provided an update on his condition in February are a perfect example of why he's worth taking a chance on.

"I remember so many guys in high school and college who would kill to be in my position right now, even with the injury," Lattimore said. "They'd kill to be in a position to go to the NFL and do what you dream. And the main things I feel like, I can't take this for granted. Not one day. Ever.

"I'll never complain. Ever since this happened, I'll never complain about anything in my life."

That attitude helped Lattimore return once. It would be tough to start betting against him now. He doesn't seem the least bit worried about the grueling process ahead of him, and that mental battle is often just as important as the physical one.

The natural ability is there for him to emerge from a lackluster running back group, led by Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Giovani Bernard, as the most impactful performer. If he can shake his injury woes before they sap his talent, he can still be a star in the NFL.

It's far from a guarantee. He's been through too much to guarantee anything at this point. But as teams look at their draft boards and see a group of running backs with limited upside, it's hard not to come back around to Lattimore and the potential he illustrated in college.

All told, there was definitely too much risk involved with potentially taking him in Round 1, and that will probably remain the case through Round 2.

Starting in Round 3 that risk begins to fade away. The team that takes a chance on Lattimore could very well walk away with the draft's biggest steal.