Marcus Lattimore's Path to the NFL Draft Should Look Familiar to 49er Fans

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterFebruary 21, 2013

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 06:  Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks warms up prior to facing the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is on the verge of turning the big three-oh. There isn't a single back in the NFL who is happy when he turns 30, mainly because it usually spells the beginning of an end.

However, Gore's future seems as bright as ever thanks in large part to his decreased workload since Jim Harbaugh arrived in the Bay Area.

The drop off hasn't been monumental considering he has still recorded 585 touches during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but every allocated carry to anyone not named Gore seems to help. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Brandon Jacobs and Bruce Miller all helped shoulder the workload at some point for San Francisco this past season.

Even so, it's silly to think Gore will be donning a 49ers uniform for much longer. He has two years remaining on his current deal, which runs through the 2014 season. In 2013, he carries a cap number of $6.45 million and in 2014 he is scheduled for that same amount, according to Spotrac.

A pretty penny for a running back who will be on the wrong side of 30 in May. Yet the power all lies within the hands of the 49ers organization. At the end of 2013, San Francisco could cut Gore without any repercussions because he carries no dead money into the 2014 season.

So it's safe this upcoming season could be his last as a Niner.

Which is why it wouldn't surprise me if the 49ers drafted another running back on day two of the NFL draft. Names like Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard and Stepfan Taylor would all be nice additions to an already stacked backfield, but clearly there is no better choice than Marcus Lattimore for more reasons than one.

Drafting Lattimore with the either the 74th or 93rd pick would prove to be a great value pick first and foremost. With four picks inside the top 100, the 49ers are in a position to take a chance on a player who has fallen due to medical concerns.

Expectations for Lattimore during his rookie season would be incredibly low considering San Francisco's unbelievable depth. Shoot, they could even stash him away on injured reserve the entire season for precautionary purposes.

It wouldn't be the first time Harbaugh redshirted a member of his rookie draft class.

Obviously the 232-pound power back out of South Carolina would like to play immediately given the fact his recovery from a torn ACL, LCL and PCL is ahead of schedule. But easing back into a full workload could be the best thing for him in 2013. Not everyone has the luxury of recovering as quickly as Adrian Peterson.

It's also worth noting that Lattimore's biggest cheerleader to join the 49ers may be none other than No. 21 himself. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Gore has reached out to the star SEC running back in hopes of encouraging him during his grueling rehab process.

For those of you who don't remember, Gore suffered similar injuries while at the University of Miami. He too acutally sustained tears in both ACLs over the course of his collegiate career as a Hurricane, just like Lattimore did.

Gore was also viewed by the draft community as a first-round pick prior to hurting both knees. Many wondered if he would ever be the same player after two operations, but San Francisco was willing to take a chance on him with one of its four top 100 picks in 2005. They selected him with the 65th pick in the third round.

He only saw 127 carries that first season, but it was enough to lead the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Only Maurice Hicks averaged a higher yards per carry average that season. The passing of the torch was made official at season's end, Gore had officially taken over the lead back job from Kevan Barlow.

Who says a similar story can't write itself in 2013?

The 49ers have the ammo to step outside the box and take a shot on guy who has been compared to All-Pro running back Arian Foster. He's a power runner with good vision and quick feet—he can also elude tacklers when the opportunity presents itself.

However, the true test will come at the NFL Scouting Combine. Teams will be poking and prodding at prospects like they are cattle ready to be sold at auction. General managers, front office executives and team doctors will want to make sure he is on course for a full recovery.

Here's what Mike Mayock of told Darryl Slater of the Post and Courier: "The NFL is collectively holding its breath to see where he is [medically]."

For the sake of Lattimore's future, I hope the NFL can relax and exhale at the conclusion of the scouting combine.