COMMENTARY | Running backs are a dime a dozen in the NFL draft. That is unless the nation's top college running back is available in the fourth round. Marcus Lattimore has all the makings of a draft-day steal, and the 49ers were fortunate to acquire him on Day 3 of the 2013 NFL draft.
Lattimore fell to the 49ers at the 131st overall pick, after suffering a leg injury on Oct. 27, 2012 in which he dislocated his knee and tore three ligaments. It was the second straight year in which Lattimore's season ended due to injury, and he was expected to be a first-round pick had he not suffered the injury.
The 21-year-old has good company when it comes to a top national running back ending his college career due to a massive injury. Denver Broncos' running back Willis McGahee tore two ligaments in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and fell to the Buffalo Bills at No. 23 in the 2003 NFL draft. The Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in December 2011 and became the 2012 NFL MVP just over one year later.
However, Frank Gore's two major knee injuries while at the University of Miami will be the most significant to Lattimore. The incoming rookie will be Gore's understudy and hopeful replacement in the next few years.
Lattimore is, by no means, in the 49ers' immediate plans at running back. Frank Gore is coming off a 1,200-yard season and still has two more years left on his four-year deal worth $25.9 million. It has already been mentioned that the 2013 NFL season will be a red-shirt season for Lattimore, who will still be recovering from his major leg injury.
Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Matt Maiocco is reporting that Lattimore is still in the beginning stages of rehab.
"I'm running sprints, doing everything I can," Lattimore said. "I've been running straight ahead, been doing box jumps, and been doing a lot of different things to get you back on the field. It's been great. I've been working hard."
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said there is no timetable for Lattimore's return and that there is no rush in getting him back on the field.
"We're going to slow things down for him physically," Harbaugh said. "I love his mental approach to it -- the aggressive mental approach that he's taken though this whole process. But we're going to slow the aggressive physical down and make sure Marcus is going to be 100 percent healthy before he's out there on the field. I told him that (and) shared that with his mother (Yolanda Smith)."
Lattimore is obviously in the future plans at running back, though. He can be added to a group that includes Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James -- any of which could become a two-headed or three-headed attack in the 49ers' backfield in the years to come.
What makes the 49ers' selection of Lattimore an absolute steal is the pick they used to acquire him, a potential NFL talent. San Francisco used the 131st overall pick, a compensatory draft pick acquired from the Carolina Panthers in 2012, which the 49ers could not trade.
A draft pick that was not theirs was turned into a selection of a wildcard pick that could become an injury-plagued bust or the future starter at running back. Either way, there is little downside for the 49ers.
The reward far outweighs the risk for San Francisco, and with Lattimore's undoubted talent while at South Carolina, it should not be long before many are talking about his starring role in the future of the 49ers' backfield.
Scott Semmler is a senior at San Jose State University fortunate enough to have covered nearly every Bay Area professional sports team, including the San Francisco Giants' 2012 World Series title. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSemmler22.
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- Marcus Lattimore
- Frank Gore