As word of Marcus Lattimore’s plans to leave South Carolina and enter professional football next season went public Monday, draft analysts were still working to absorb the news and determine where Lattimore would fit into the 2013 NFL draft.
Is he the next Willis McGahee? The former University of Miami star suffered a similarly gruesome knee injury and was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. McGahee sat out that season but made the Buffalo Bills’ gamble pay off by rushing for 1,110 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2004. He has rushed for more than 8,000 yards in 10 NFL seasons but currently is sidelined due to a broken leg and torn MCL.
McGahee was considered a guaranteed top 10 pick before his injury, and the Bills took him with the No. 23 selection. That’s the best case scenario for Lattimore if he enters this year’s draft. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Monday he doesn’t believe Lattimore has made a firm decision to enter the draft and might return to the Gamecocks next season.
The 6-foot, 218-pound Lattimore, who was still on crutches Friday after having November surgery to repair damage to multiple ligaments in his right knee, has had reconstructive surgery on both knees in the past 13 months. He tore the ACL in his left knee in 2011. Spurrier already has suggested it could be 2014 before Lattimore can return to the football field — no matter what jersey he is wearing.
The talent that made Lattimore one of the country’s most sought-after recruits three years ago and led to 1,197 yards and national freshman of the year honors in 2010 will make him too tempting for pro teams to pass, Rotoworld.com NFL draft writer Josh Norris said.
“NFL teams redshirt plenty of people, plenty of people less talented than Marcus Lattimore that were just injured, maybe not as severe an injury,” Norris said. “So redshirt in the NFL, because he’ll get that contract while he’s redshirting, and there is no chance of being re-injured in college football. And he’ll be looking forward to that second contract when he does step foot on the field in the NFL.”
Norris believes entering the NFL draft is the right decision for Lattimore but cautioned it could be the later rounds before he is selected.
“I mean, when you get to the sixth and seventh round, maybe 25 percent of those guys are on and NFL roster three years down the line, and I would absolutely take that shot,” Norris said. “Even with the medicals, why not take the shot? Somebody is going to be like, ‘It’s a sixth or seventh round pick, why not?’ I’d just take the chance.”
Lattimore’s draft stock was in question before his most recent injury. His 4.6 yards per carry this season are the lowest average of his career. His rushing numbers have dropped each of his three seasons at USC because of injury, from 1,197 in 13 games in 2010 to 818 in seven games in 2011 to 662 in nine games in 2012.
Lattimore has 11 games with more than 100 yards rushing in his career. Seven of those came before October 2011. His four 100-yard rushing games since then were against Kentucky (twice), Vanderbilt and Georgia.