Originally posted on Optimum Scouting  |  Last updated 3/27/13

Recovering from a major knee injury as a running back is an overwhelming undertaking. It takes months of mentally and physically exhausting rehab, detailed work to ensure no hiccups or long-term issues arise, and there’s a strong chance in not returning to pre-injury form.

For South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, he’s forced to overcome TWO major knee injuries from his three year stint in college. After torn ligaments in his left knee in 2011, he suffered ligament damage in his right knee just a year later. After declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft, his road to recovery has been an uphill one, but one that scouts will be eagerly following and likely rooting for. His flashes as a freshman lead him to be touted as a future NFL star.

After his Pro Day workout for NFL scouts  to prove his rehab is on track, Lattimore is confident he’ll be able to return to his elite-running back form as early as the beginning of the 2013 season.

 

At his Pro Day, Lattimore told beat writer Josh Kendall that “he has no doubt he will play in the first half of the 2013 NFL Season”. In what is a fantastic display of confidence and trust in the rehab process, his statement should turn heads of NFL team executives, as they begin to evaluate what his 2013 NFL Draft value really is, and if he belongs  in the Top 100 discussion.

He wasn’t able to perform any of the normal Combine drills (expected based on his recovery time-table), Lattimore did participate in multiple rehab-related drills, according to Tony Pauline. While it’s not the ideal setting for teams to evaluate him , his willingness to show his rehab process is a noteworthy development. With an impressive showing based on the reports of teams in attendence, all things considered, the workout helped Lattimore and aid in shaping his eventual “round grade”.

Factoring in his play as a freshman, his play in-between injuries, and the injury concerns, we at Optimum Scouting view Lattimore as a 3rd round value. While extrapolating his recovery process to what he may be once recovered is asking a lot from a scouting perspective, his return to his productive and efficient self in 2012 after his left knee injury allows for some hope that his right knee recovery will be similar.

Lattimore doesn’t have elite speed or big play elusiveness as a runner that we’ve seen in most 1st round-graded running backs. However, Lattimore is a unique runner in that he does all of the “little things” at an extremely high and NFL-ready level. He possesses elite vision when working upfield, is very decisive in reading his blocks and linebackers at the second level, and has relatively zero hesitation as a runner, forcing linebackers to be over-aggressive and gamble at times. He attacks the hole quickly and with good pad level, and finishes runs upfield.

And aside from just a running threat, Lattimore is both a willing and very polished (for a relatively inexperienced college runner) as a pass blocker and pass catcher. With a strong lower half and improving hand placement, Lattimore will be able to step in day one and contribute as a pass blocker. And as a receiver, his routes out of the backfield are efficient, along with his ability to find openings in the defense after securing the ball, and using his vision and quick first step to pick up big chunks of yards in short yardage catches.

If Lattimore hadn’t suffered two devastating injuries at South Carolina, he likely would have been an eventual Top 10 selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Polished in a variety of areas, having elite vision and first step, and natural running back instincts, teams would be hard-pressed to find a more NFL-ready running back along with elite upside.

NFL teams round grade on Lattimore will hinge on their evaluation of his recovery process, and if he’ll ever return to 100%. There’s no guarantee he ever will, and with such a deep running back class (we could see 12 taken before the 5th round), teams may be better off going with the safer option. However, combining Michael Bush’s great value in the 4th round for the Raiders in the 2007 draft despite coming off major injury, along with the unbelievable recovery of Adrian Peterson this year for the Vikings could lead teams to feel a bit safer in their “gamble” on Lattimore.

It only takes one team to take that gamble and draft Lattimore. Maybe it’ll be a perennial playoff team with few needs, viewing him as a worthwhile risk in the late 2nd round. Maybe it’ll be a young, rebuilding team willing to take him early 3rd, sit on him for a year and hope he’s an elite back in 2014. It may be a stretch as of now, but Lattimore’s hope of going Top 100 isn’t out of the question, especially after showing more than expected at his Pro Day.

Everyone is rooting for him to make a full recovery, but not every team will believe it. It only takes one team to take that gamble on the recovering yet confident Lattimore. And that team may end up with the biggest draft-day steal of 2013.

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