Taking a flyer — could the 49ers benefit from drafting Marcus Lattimore?I didn’t consult with BASG to see if he was already writing something, but I think I’ll take the lead on this post. I’ve been “banging the table” (thank you, Mike Mayock) for the 49ers to draft Marcus Lattimore since mid-February. Over time, my theory turned into a full-fledged draft crush. It had gotten to the point that even if all of my other favorites went by the wayside, I’d be happy as long as Lattimore went to the 49ers. It was an enormous risk — as the Guy pointed out, Dr. James Andrews described his knee as “hamburger” — but should the South Carolina running back recover from his gruesome injuries, he’s the best running back to come out of this draft class.

And now he’s a San Francisco 49er.

Trent Baalke used his compensatory fourth-round pick (131st overall) to draft Lattimore, and now he’ll likely redshirt on the 49ers “physically unable to perform” list for the entirety of the 2013 season.

But there isn’t a team in the NFL more suited to take on a situation like Lattimore’s, and in hindsight, it was an easy choice for the 49ers.

  • With Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, San Francisco is set at running back this year. They don’t need help, save an injury, and even then Anthony Dixon can step in for the interim.
  • The 49ers had enough picks in this draft to take a risk with one of them. Should Lattimore never recover, Baalke lost very little in drafting him at the end of the fourth round. Should he recover, he could be the biggest impact running back in this draft.
  • Gore simply doesn’t have much time left. The 49ers offense could continue with two small tailbacks, but feature backs are still important assets in this league and Baalke already mentioned a “three-headed monster backfield.” Lattimore is a feature back, and the heir apparent to Gore.
  • Baalke already addressed all of the areas of need before taking Lattimore. Safety, defensive line and a bolstered pass rush are taken care of. They even got a steal of a wide receiver in Quinton Patton two picks before taking a running back.
  • Gore is the perfect man to groom Lattimore. Not only do they have similar running styles, but Gore suffered two knee injuries during his career at the University of Miami, so he knows what the rehab will take.

Lattimore spoke about his chance with the 49ers, saying “this is a great opportunity with a great organization and I can’t wait to get there.” He also said he spoke to Frank Gore, who told him “to keep a positive mindset.”

NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly called Lattimore “the best back in the draft.” Here’s what NFL.com’s draft profile says about him:

South Carolina’s high school “Mr. Football” in 2009 (after racking up 1,898 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns his senior year) decided to stay in-state for his collegiate football career, and made his presence felt as a true freshman the following fall. The National Freshman of the Year by many media outlets also earned a spot on the Walter Camp All-American second team and first-team All-SEC accolades from league coaches after rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 scores his first year on campus. Only Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star back George Rogers ran for more yards in school history (in 1979 and 1980). Three games accounted for a large share of his season totals, though all were in wins over SEC East opponents that helped the Gamecocks win the division (182 yards against Georgia, 184 against Tennessee, 212 (with three TDs) at Florida).

Lattimore started his sophomore season strong, rushing for over 100 yards in four of the first six contests (including 246 yards and three scores against Navy). He suffered a season-ending torn left ACL against Mississippi State, however, which led to six missed games and a November surgery. SEC coaches voted him second-team all-conference after 2011 season despite his injury, recognizing his playmaking ability.

Lattimore came back strong in 2012, and was having an impressive season, until Oct. 27 in a game against Tennessee, during which he suffered a devastating knee injury that ultimately would end his college career. Lattimore tore all three ligaments in his right knee. After the season, Lattimore decided he was going to rehab and declare for the NFL draft.

STRENGTHS

Taller north-south runner who plays with good lean to plow for yards between the tackles. Possesses vision and quick feet for his size to slide into a rushing lane and the speed to get upfield once finding the hole. Quite effective on zone runs when used in that capacity. Has the wiggle to freeze and elude tacklers to space. Spins off piles inside and keeps his legs churning to pick up the extra yard. Gets into his routes fluidly out of the backfield and flashes the hand to adjust to poor throws. Good build for pass protection, and is willing to hustle and make contact to keep his quarterback clean.

WEAKNESSES

With back to back seasons ending in traumatic knee injuries, durability is a major red flag. There are also the questions of how his medicals will check out, and how much he will be able to contribute his rookie season. Even before his injuries, struggled to get into a second or third gear in order to break off longer gains.

NFL COMPARISON

Arian Foster

BOTTOM LINE

Lattimore offers an extremely intriguing blend of power, balance, vision and production. However, it’s hard not to question his future durability and how much of the same player he will be going forward after major injuries to both knees in consecutive seasons. While his talent suggests a late first-round pick, it’s much more likely that he is a Day 3 pick.

Arian Foster is an awfully nice comparison. Here’s a look at his college highlights. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start planning my draft crush after party.