Should the Colts Take a Chance on South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore?

Al Messerschmidt

Based on talent alone, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. Add his character into that and he looks even better. So why is he projected as a mid to late round prospect? His injury history. If he drops that far, however, he would be a very nice addition for the Colts.

I remember sitting there watching college football, with the TV tuned into the South Carolina game versus Tennessee this past year. I wasn't paying close attention to the game and was working on other things (perhaps even writing for this blog), but I had the game turned on for one reason: Marcus Lattimore. Ever since his freshman year in 2010 in which he took college football by storm, I have loved watching Lattimore run. In 2011, however, he suffered a torn ACL which ended his season early. By 2012, however, he was looking back to form and having himself another good year. Then, on October 27, 2012, on his 11th carry of the game, it happened again. Lattimore suffered one of the most gruesome injuries you will see in football, tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL (and many feared it was much worse) and raising serious doubts about whether one of the nation's best players would ever play football again. But Lattimore was determined to play again and he worked tirelessly towards that goal. He even worked out at South Carolina's pro day just a few weeks ago and, after he finished, got a rousing ovation from those in attendance. That's rare, and that shows how well-liked Lattimore is and just how much he has overcome. The kid has fight, motivation, perseverance, and he has the chance to be a huge sleeper in this year's draft.

Put simply, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore would be a top ten pick - and likely much higher than that, even - if he had stayed healthy. Now, he is being projected as a mid-to-late prospect - the earliest seeming to be the third or fourth round, the latest seeming to be the seventh round or not drafted at all. There are huge durability issues, for sure. He has torn his ACL in each of the last two years and especially for a running back, that's huge and that's devastating. But if there was ever an injured player to take a chance on, I'd think it would be Lattimore. Talent-wise and character-wise, he's a premier prospect. Check out what some scouting reports are saying about him:

NFL.com:

STRENGTHS Taller north-south runner who plays with good lean to plow for yards between the tackles. Possesses vision and quick feet for his size to slide into a rushing lane and the speed to get upfield once finding the hole. Quite effective on zone runs when used in that capacity. Has the wiggle to freeze and elude tacklers to space. Spins off piles inside and keeps his legs churning to pick up the extra yard. Gets into his routes fluidly out of the backfield and flashes the hand to adjust to poor throws. Good build for pass protection, and is willing to hustle and make contact to keep his quarterback clean.

WEAKNESSES With back to back seasons ending in traumatic knee injuries, durability is a major red flag. There are also the questions of how his medicals will check out, and how much he will be able to contribute his rookie season. Even before his injuries, struggled to get into a second or third gear in order to break off longer gains.

NFL COMPARISON Arian Foster

BOTTOM LINE 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. While his talent suggests a late first-round pick, it's much more likely that he is a Day 3 pick.

CBS Sports:

One scout said that as many pro days he's attended he's never seen a player get applauded for a workout. This kid is one of the nicest people you'll ever come across. His mother and step father are just wonderful people. It's unfortunate that he got hurt. He was a very, very good football player. It looks right now like he's battled all the odds and he's going to win and get a chance to play in the NFL. It's unbelievable what he's accomplished after a devastating injury in his last year at South Carolina. - Gil Brandt, NFL.com

These scouting reports are of a guy projected to go fourth round or later. That's a steal, in my opinion. Even with his injury history, he's a player that I'd be in favor of the Colts taking a chance on. The Colts currently have six draft picks - a first, third, fourth, sixth, and two sevenths (one being a compensatory pick). Is Lattimore worth the fourth round choice? He sure as heck is worth a sixth rounder, but a fourth? I think so, but that's my opinion only.

Consider the Colts running back position. Vick Ballard is entrenched as the starter, but with that comes a bit of uncertainty over whether he is ready to shoulder the bulk of the carries. Donald Brown, the much maligned former first round choice, is the team's speed back who likely will get opportunities - but Brown himself has an injury history. Delone Carter is the team's short yardage back and did well in that spot last year. But as a whole, that doesn't exactly great. It's just been that no one has been talking about it because of the other, more pressing needs. But the Colts addressed most of their needs this offseason, and in the early rounds of the draft will likely address the others. Taking a flier on a very talented running back who is a great person and locker room influence is completely worth it.

Yes, his injury history is a concern. A big one. For a running back, coming off of two ACL surgeries is never a certainty. But a few things: 1) if ever there is a year to take a running back coming off of that surgery, it is this year. I'm not saying this is a good thing, but teams will look at Adrian Peterson's recovery and point to the fact that he came back better than ever. Again, I don't think that's great judgement, but I'm sure its going on. 2) Taking an injured player in the fourth round or later is a completely different story than taking him in an early round. Early on, you are counting on that player to be a solid contributor for years to come. In the fourth round, if a guy gives you great production even for a few years then it was a successful pick. So the doubts about whether Lattimore can play 9-10 years in the league really shouldn't apply here, as he will be a mid to late round pick.

Look, Ryan Grigson knows what he is doing and he showed last year that he is a very good talent evaluator. And I don't know the Colts' interest in Lattimore. But what we do know is this: the Colts were in attendance at Lattimore's pro day (as was every other NFL team) and an article on the running back's comeback appeared on the Colts' official website. And, as a team that could really use another running back and with a chance to get a top-ten talent, the benefit greatly outweighs the risk. Some people even had the Colts picking Lattimore in their 2013 mock draft done at the time of last year's draft (I never did understand those...), and that was with the Colts projected with the seventh overall pick. What a steal it would be to get him in the mid-to-late rounds!

Granted, it would be best for Lattimore to sit out part (if not all) of this year. He doesn't seem to have any intention on doing that, however. Going to the Colts would be a great fit for him too. He wouldn't be the starter (at least not for a year or two, for sure), but he could definitely provide some great relief for Vick Ballard whenever he is ready to play. Lattimore is a hard, tough runner who keeps fighting for yards, and he is one that has the elusiveness and quickness to make guys miss. He is great in the passing game as well, both as a receiving option and as a pass blocker. That type of player seems to be just the player the Colts could use. As I said about Trevardo Williams a few days ago, I would be a big fan of the Colts taking a chance on Lattimore.

Brad Wells wrote an article just today about running back options for the Colts in the draft - they likely will address the position. All of those names are just as likely of a pick to the Colts as Lattimore, but none of them has the upside that the former South Carolina back does.

It's certainly an option worth considering for the Colts. What would you think of Lattimore to the Colts?

Marcus Lattimore Collegiate Statistics at the University of South Carolina:

Year Games Rushing Receiving
2010 13 249 - 1197 - 17 (4.8 avg.) 29 - 412 - 2 (14.2 avg.)
2011 8 163 - 818 - 10 (5.0 avg.) 19 - 183- 1 (9.6 avg.)
2012 9 143 - 662 - 11 (4.6 avg.) 26 - 173 - 0 (6.7 avg.)
TOTAL 30 555 - 2677 - 38 (4.8 avg.) 74 - 767 - 3 (10.4 avg.)
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