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A Theory on Marcus Lattimore’s Rookie Season

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By now you’ve probably heard the Marcus Lattimore story.  A big time recruit, Lattimore takes the SEC by storm as a freshman while drawing comparisons to Herschel Walker.  His dominance continues into 2011 until a season-ending knee surgery clouds his future.  Resilient, Marcus returns in 2012 only to injure his other knee in season-ending fashion.  Now, after being the #1 running back heading into the 2012 season, Lattimore’s outlook is a mystery.

Because we have no workout data on him, he’s a difficult guy to project.  Unlike the rest of the 2013 RB class, we have been unable to apply our traditional methods, so in this article I will be taking a a different approach.  To begin to understand Lattimore, we will compare him against ten other SEC running backs that have appeared in the NFL recently.  Similar to this Zac Stacy article, we will focus on games in which the player received a lead back workload of 10+ carries in conference games over their final two college seasons.

True to his reputation, Lattimore proves to be a workhorse in line with recent SEC studs.

RB Games Car/gm
Darren McFadden 17 25.2
Ben Tate 13 21.4
Knowshon Moreno 15 21.0
Marcus Lattimore 10.5 20.8
Carnell Williams 17 20.4
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 16 19.3
Stevan Ridley 9 19.0
Trent Richardson 13 18.8
Mark Ingram 17 18.8
Vick Ballard 13 18.2
Arian Foster 14 16.6

With two surgically repaired knees, it’s doubtful that Marcus would see lead-back carries immediately upon entering the NFL.  So, let’s pretend that he will be brought along slowly and given a handful of touches per game.  How did Lattimore perform on a per carry basis?

RB Games Car/gm Yds/gm Yds/Car
Trent Richardson 13 18.8 110.8 5.90
Darren McFadden 17 25.2 140.3 5.56
Knowshon Moreno 15 21.0 113.5 5.40
Mark Ingram 17 18.8 101.3 5.40
Carnell Williams 17 20.4 107.5 5.28
Vick Ballard 13 18.2 84.2 4.62
Ben Tate 13 21.4 98.2 4.59
Stevan Ridley 9 19.0 86.7 4.56
Marcus Lattimore 10.5 20.8 93.7 4.51
Arian Foster 14 16.6 74.0 4.47
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 16 19.3 80.8 4.18

To a certain extent, it looks like the former South Carolina running back was a numbers-by-volume guy.  He thrived on heavy workloads, probably “got better as the game went on,” but didn’t break off many big runs (only 3 runs of 30+ yards between 2011-12).  So we’ve got a workload-reliant runner, whose knees might prohibit him from getting a big workload, while at the same time showing limited ability for explosive runs, even if used in change-of-pace scenarios. What good is that?

But there is one thing Lattimore does incredibly well: score touchdowns.  He scores them in virtually every game with 10+ carries and he often rewards his team with multi touchdown games.  He is a proven finisher.

RB Games % 1+TD % 2+TD TD/gm
Marcus Lattimore 10.5 95% 29% 1.24
Carnell Williams 17 82% 24% 1.29
Stevan Ridley 9 67% 22% 1.00
Mark Ingram 17 65% 35% 1.06
Knowshon Moreno 15 60% 20% 0.93
Darren McFadden 17 59% 29% 0.94
Trent Richardson 13 54% 23% 0.92
Vick Ballard 13 54% 8% 0.69
Ben Tate 13 46% 8% 0.54
Arian Foster 14 43% 7% 0.57
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 16 31% 6% 0.38

Maybe Lattimore isn’t ready to be a lead back yet, but maybe he can offer immediate value as something else.  We hear tight ends and wide receivers referred to as “red zone threats,” while running backs are usually recognized as goal-line backs.  What about something in between for Lattimore?  What if an NFL team used him as a red zone running back?  It would be a great way to limit his carries and minimize strain from pass-blocking assignments, while at the same time putting him in a position to contribute.  As he works his way back into game shape, and learns the complexities of NFL  pass protection, he could gradually be incorporated into more areas of the field.  Over time, this could provide a road map until he gets back to full strength.

Maybe this is all crazy talk.  And maybe NFL franchises will do something completely different.  However, it’s important to TRY to decipher Lattimore’s future despite the lack of evidence.  Currently ranked as the #10 RB in this class (per NFLDraftScout.com), Lattimore has the upside to be a steal both in real life and fantasy football.  He’s one of the youngest RBs in the draft and has proven #1 ability.  For whichever team is willing to bring him along slowly, I’m guessing that the payoff will be worth the patience.

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By Jon Moore | @HelloJonMoore | Archive

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