It is rare to find unanimous first-round talent in the fourth round of the NFL draft, but that is exactly what GM Trent Baalke did when the San Francisco 49ers selected South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
On Day 3 of the 2013 NFL draft, the Niners made perhaps the biggest value pick of the entire draft, taking the All-American tailback at No. 131 overall.
Given the injury history of Marcus Lattimore, the team he is now going to and whom he may potentially be succeeding in the long term, this is a Cinderella story through and through.
Let’s take a look at how this former Gamecock fits in with the 49ers.
How Does Lattimore Fit In?
With an attack spearheaded by Frank Gore, coached by Tom Rathman and called by Greg Roman, the 49ers have fielded one of the most potent, high-volume rushing games in the National Football League.
Not only do they have the big, bruising offensive line up front creating lanes, but they have the innovative schemes and talent carrying the football. This is a very complete ground attack already, but as Baalke noted before the draft, he is not opposed to drafting into strength.
This was a value pick made by the team based on quite an anomaly.
The 49ers are so loaded on the roster—particularly at running back—but their all-time leading rusher is nearing 30 years of age. In a year or so, the team will really be in need of a top-tier athlete to take the reins.
With a gruesome late-season injury in 2012 that saw Lattimore tear four of five ligaments in his knee, there is no reason to rush him into action for 2013. Instead, he will be able to finish his rehabilitation and absorb the playbook while Gore continues to forge ahead as the No. 1 running back.
His Role in 2013 and Beyond
Marcus Lattimore will come in listed as the 49ers’ fourth or fifth tailback—perhaps riding the PUP list in 2013.
And with this, the 49ers know they have a storm brewing.
Lattimore is driven and highly motivated to hit the ground running, but he will have to practice patience. He will do his best work in the classroom, learning the nuances of a very complex offense and taking a lot of mental reps.
He will prepare for the mental part of the NFL, which will give him a tremendous head start once he is fully ready for the physical part.
However, this season, San Francisco will boast a run game with three prominent role players in Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter. These three are a dynamic trio already, and still have not had a chance to play together.
James assumed backup duties once Hunter (Achilles) was lost for the 2012 season.
It is a strong position group that continues to add layers. Although, with that approach, there are bound to be roster causalities. As we head toward the 2013 training camp, veteran RB Anthony Dixon finds himself in a tough spot.
The backup tailback and special teams ace has been a heartbeat for this team, providing a warm locker-room presence.
However, from an on-field standpoint, his contributions are replaceable.
Dixon may be out as soon as 2013. But remember, the 49ers also carried an inactive Brandon Jacobs and Jewel Hampton last year. James was also inactive for a significant part of his rookie season.
There is a chance Dixon stays around, but down the road, it’s more than plausible the 49ers allow him to become a free agent.
The addition of Lattimore was made to give the 49ers a building block for the future.
In the long term—post-Frank Gore—it appears as if the 49ers are constructing an explosive three-headed rushing attack that features Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers' lead columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80