Every year, NFL fan bases fall head over heels in love with one or two (or three) potential prospects. In the months/weeks leading up to the draft, the fan base justifies why these players are perfect fits for their team. Come draft weekend, most fan bases watch as their team passes on their draft crushes round after round. 49er fans are no different.
Before we take a look at what the future might hold for Lattimore and the 49ers, let's take a look back at Lattimore's college career.
Lattimore was a five star running back (according to Rivals and Scouts, Inc.) coming out of high school in South Carolina and had offers from several of the country's top teams including Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Oregon and Penn State.
After choosing to stay home and attend South Carolina, Lattimore burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2010, rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns on 249 carries. Lattimore also hauled in 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns. His first season as a Gamecock was cut short in the first quarter of South Carolina's bowl game against Florida State. Lattimore caught a pass in the flat and was promptly hit in a viscous collision, causing a fumble and leaving Lattimore with a cut lip and a concussion.
In 2011, Lattimore was well on his way to replicating his stellar freshman year before tearing the ACL in his left knee in South Carolina's seventh game of the season. Lattimore's final stats for 2011: 163 carries for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Lattimore entered his junior year on a mission to prove he could comeback from his knee injury with the same explosiveness that had caught the attention of the college football world. Unfortunately, during week nine of the season, Lattimore suffered one of the more horrific knee injuries in recent memory, this time to his right knee. Lattimore tore three of the four knee ligaments (ACL, LCL and PCL) and dislocated his knee. Check out SoCaliSteph's thorough analyses of Lattimore's injury. He finished his junior year with 143 carries for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lattimore earned several SEC and national awards while at South Carolina, including numerous player of the week honors, All-SEC honors, and All-American honors. He was also a member of the All-SEC academic team in 2011 and earned a Dr. Harris Pastides Scholar Athlete for football at the 2012 Garnet & Black Spring Game.
At 5-11, 212 lbs, Lattimore is built like an every down back with excellent strengths:
- North-south runner: While possessing adequate speed and quickness, Lattimore prefers running north-south with quick bursts through the hole. He has enough lateral quickness and speed to make defenders miss in the open field.
- Physical: Lattimore doesn't shy away from contact. He plays with good pad level, allowing him to stay low through the line of scrimmage and punish defenders who attempt to tackle him high.
- Balance: Lattimore is often able to spin off tackles and pick his way through traffic without getting tackled by the shoe-strings.
Check out some film from last year's game against Kentucky courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
The areas of concern for Lattimore are few:
- Lack of elite speed: I don't envision this as being too much of a problem at the next level given Lattimore's skill set as listed above.
- Injuries: This is clearly the biggest concern. Lattimore was unable to complete any of his three seasons uninjured at South Carolina. Two major knee surgeries caused many teams to remove Lattimore from their draft boards all together. The biggest question is: Will Lattimore ever be able to return to the level of dominance he displayed in 2010?
Heading into the draft many prognosticators had pegged the 49ers as an ideal landing spot for the star junior running back. Since the Niners still have four running backs under contract (Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, and Anthony Dixon) there is not an immediate need to address that would require rushing Lattimore back from injury. The far-from-empty cupboard affords the 49ers (and Lattimore) the luxury to allow Lattimore time to completely heal, gain confidence in the knee, and work his way back into playing shape.
Another reason the selection of Lattimore makes sense is Frank Gore's $6.45 million cap hit in 2014. This brings up a rather touchy subject. Gore is arguably one of the more popular 49ers in recent memory. He's been a workhorse throughout his eight years in the NFL. Gore was a part of some of the worst teams in 49er history and never once complained about anything (despite his brief four-day "holdout" in 2011).
Gore will be 30 this season (31 in 2014), an age at which we traditionally see NFL running back start to regress. If Gore does slow in 2013 the 49ers will have Lattimore waiting in the wings in 2014, making Gore and his cap number a candidate to be released or, at the very least, a candidate for a restructured contract.
In a perfect world we'd all love to see Gore end his career as a 49er. However, if Lattimore is healthy and even a shell of his former self, the writing may be on the wall for Gore at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
The bottom line is that Lattimore, if healthy, is the running back of the future in San Francisco. Even with Hunter, James and Dixon on the roster, Lattimore is the player best suited to be an every down back. Hunter, James and Dixon are specialists who fill specific roles in the offense. Lattimore is a workhorse.