Fourth Round: 131st Pick
No player in the 2013 NFL draft has a bigger span between ceiling and floor than Marcus Lattimore.
The workhorse back could be an elite starter for a decade, but he also might never be able to make a significant contribution to the team that drafts him. What makes him so risky and yet so enticing to teams looking to hit a home run at running back this year in the draft?
This list could just as easily be the answer to "what are the duties of a running back?". Lattimore is a fluid, strong athlete with a great initial burst and a second gear. His balance and leg drive result in a ton of yards after contact, and he always falls forward. Lattimore is also decisive with excellent vision to see holes developing and hit them at full speed. He has a nose for the goal line and is as strong at the end of games as he is at the beginning.
Lattimore also projects as that true three-down feature back that has become a rare commodity in theNFL. He has soft hands out of the backfield, and he is an outstanding pass-blocker. Lattimore has the size and experience to be a reliable 300-carry back in the pros, and he doesn't need to be replaced in any situation.
He is also one of the hardest workers and strongest character players in the entire draft.
Lattimore is not a burner, he won't run over defenders, and he won't make them miss very often in the open field. Arian Foster has become an elite back with no elite tools, but most stud backs in the NFL have some physical trump card.
The bigger question about Lattimore is the condition of his surgically repaired knees. He tore his leftACL in 2011. After a comeback last year, he didn't quite look the same, and then tore three ligaments and dislocated the kneecap in his right knee, in one of the more gruesome knee injuries you'll ever see.
Dr. James Andrews said his recovery was ahead of schedule (via ESPN) in February, and that he could possibly play this year, but the truth is that no one knows whether Lattimore will ever get back to the player he was before his two catastrophic knee injuries.
At 5'11" 221 pounds, Lattimore has the ideal build for an NFL feature back, with a strong lower body and big 9 7/8" hands. He didn't work out at the combine because of his knee injury, but he looks like a low 4.5-40 runner on film, one who lacks breakaway speed but still has a good initial burst. He is not a sudden or elusive back, but he knows how to deflect off of contact and otherwise defeat a tackler in the open field.
While he is not a flashy "toolsy" back, the sum of Lattimore's game is much more than the physical parts.
Lattimore's character is almost unimpeachable. He is mature beyond his years and extremely generous with his time and energy outside of football.
When he was injured in October, the public outpouring of support and sympathy for Lattimore was unprecedented. Lattimore has the work ethic, determination and belief to come back from his injuries. If he fails to become a starter in the NFL, physiology will be the reason, not any shortcoming ofLattimore as a human being.
Lattimore ran mainly out of the shotgun without a fullback as a lead blocker. He was rarely a downhill runner who took the ball running north-south. He is still an efficient runner but one without much experience in a power running game.
Lattimore is very patient and can pick and slide his way into a hole when nothing presents itself initially. He is decisive and generates a good burst when his eyes identify an opening developing.Lattimore also sees defenders at the second level beyond the hole and sets them up before reaching them. He finds cutback lanes and changes direction to exploit them with little loss of speed. This hard-to-quantify quality is ever-present on Lattimore's tape.
Lattimore is a natural receiver who can adjust to errant passes and instantly convert to run after catch mode. With hands that are soft and sticky, Lattimore should be a weapon in the passing game.
He's also a formidable blocker, willing to square up and pop a blitzing linebacker. Lattimore can move across the formation to pick off a blitzer, showing agility and great identification skills at the snap. He is also an accomplished cut-blocker when the plays calls for it.
Between the Tackles
Lattimore is not really a grinder between the tackles. He isn't afraid to mix it up when nothing is there, but he prefers to be patient and wait for a hole to develop instead of just ramming into a defender or running up the back of his blocker when the defense is stout.
Lattimore isn't going to leave tacklers grasping at air, but he understands angles and will give oncoming tacklers a poor target to hit. He also processes information very quickly and can set up a move on a tackler who comes free into the backfield before he even gets the handoff. While he's not a sudden back, Lattimore summons up everything he can to make his opponent's job more difficult in the open field.
He's not a power back, but Lattimore does have the lower body strength to break leg tackles, and his leg churn will drag a tackler for a few yards. He gets naturally low for collisions and rarely takes the worst of a confrontation in the open field. Arm tackles are useless against a determined Lattimore, and he has a extra level of strength and desire when he is close to the goal line or first-down marker.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Lattimore will either be a workhorse back or out of the league in a few years because his knees can't cut it at the next level. He is a good short-yardage back and will work in a power-running scheme, but his style points to a zone-blocking scheme as the best fit at the next level. He would also work in a read-option or pass-heavy offense that asks him to take carries from a standstill position instead of with a head of steam.