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Here at the ‘Viz, we strive to bring you fantasy content that you can’t get anywhere else. We specialize in talking up players who are overlooked by fantasy owners, and vice versa…  which is why my colleagues opinion of Marcus Lattimore has puzzled me. In the Composite Rookie RB Rankings, Lattimore was actually ranked higher than the consensus of experts over at FantasyPros.  Although I can’t speak for my fellow writers, it appears as though some of them may have been swept up in the fallacy that Lattimore was a 1st round pick, even a top 10 pick according to some draftniks. Of course, this makes complete sense, given the lack of workout information due to the former Gamecock’s knee injury. Even without those numbers, we can still evaluate 2013’s supposed #1 back in typical RotoViz fashion.

Marcus Lattimore versus 1st Round SEC Rushers

Most talent evaluators seem to believe that Lattimore was a 1st round talent, so let’s compare him to some other SEC backs drafted in the 1st round over the last few years. In order to be fair to Lattimore, I removed the game versus Florida, where he had a hip injury and only received 3 carries, and the game versus Tennessee, where he injured his knee.

Player College Year ATTs/G Yds/G TDs/G YPC
Marcus Lattimore South Carolina 2012 20.8 91.8 1.6 4.41
Player College Year ATTs/G Yds/G TDs/G YPC
Trent Richardson Alabama 2011 22.3 132.1 1.22 5.92
Mark Ingram Alabama 2010 15.6 72.4 1 4.63
Knowshon Moreno Georgia 2009 22.3 108.5 1 4.88
Darren McFadden Arkansas 2008 26.4 150.9 0.89 5.71
Felix Jones Arkansas 2008 9.7 84.4 0.56 9.05

Can you definitively say that Lattimore was better than any of the backs on this list? He only had more yards per game that scatback Felix Jones and Mark Ingram, who was losing carries to an emerging Trent Richardson. If I had to rank these players today based solely on how they performed in college, it’d be McFadden, Richardson, Moreno, Ingram, Lattimore, and then Jones. Is that far off from how you’d rate their talents? Lattimore’s TDs/G number is very good; unfortunately, that’s the least predictive stat in that table. It goes to show just how ridiculous the top 15 talk for Lattimore was.

Marcus Lattimore versus 2012 SEC Rushers

Using advanced stats provided by Football Study Hall, we can compare Lattimore’s performance to the other SEC backs that were drafted last year. From Football Study Hall, Highlights Yards are “The portion of a carry credited to the runner instead of the line (no yards on a 0-5 yard gain, half-credit for 5-10 yards, all credit 10+).” Block Success Rate is the number of Highlight Opportunities divided by total carries. Adjusted Points Over Expected that measures running back efficiency when controlling for offensive line quality (for an in-depth explanation of Adj. POE, go here).

Player College Hlt Yds/Att Adj. POE Block Success Rate
Marcus Lattimore South Carolina 1.5 -2.2 34.30%
Player College Hlt Yds/Att Adj. POE Block Success Rate
Eddie Lacy Alabama 2.65 25 49.50%
Zac Stacy Vanderbilt 2.44 12.9 37.40%
Dennis Johnson Arkansas 1.82 9.2 46%
Mike Gillislee Florida 1.65 0.6 51.80%

Lattimore ranks last in both Highlight Yards/Attempt and Adjusted Points over expected. The supposed best running back of the 2012 draft class has less big play ability than undrafted free agent Dennis Johnson, and was less valuable to his team than Mike Gillislee. The Block Success Rate of the South Carolina offensive line was the lowest on this list, but running backs like Zac Stacy and Jeremy Hill succeeded with poor Block Success Rates (you can download this information here and check it out for yourself). If he was truly a transcendent top 15 talent, he should be successful in spite of his offensive line woes. Sidenote: it speaks very poorly of Gillislee that his offensive line did its job correctly over 50% of the time and he was still terrible. That should throw some cold water on the “Gillislee starting over Lamar Miller” bus that’s gaining passengers, although it’s not much of a surprise given his putrid list of comparables.

The Injury

The most important reason to shy away from Lattimore is the most obvious: his knee. Lattimore broke his femur, [edit: Lattimore did not break his femur, that was just widely reported] dislocated his knee, and tore his ACL, LCL, and PCL. For those unfamiliar with the anatomy of a knee, that is absolute devastation. The LCL is especially important, since it keeps the knee from buckling outwards. If the LCL is repaired loosely, there can be issues with cutting. However, the knee dislocation is the scariest of the bunch. That particular injury is rare, and makes it extremely difficult to return to form. From the National Center for Biotechnology Information (emphasis is my own):

Knee dislocations can be further divided into high-velocity and low-velocity categories. High-velocity dislocations are generally caused by a sudden, extremely violent force, such as a car accident. High-velocity dislocations result in vast damage to the structures of the knee complex, including disruption of soft tissues such as the joint capsule, popliteal tendon, menisci, and cartilage. They are also more likely to involve neurovascular damage. […] Because of the less extensive associated damage, low-velocity knee dislocations generally have a better prognosis than high-velocity knee dislocations.

The prognosis for patients who have sustained knee dislocations depends on the velocity of the injury, and the amount of neurovascular damage, the treatment method, and the dedication to the rehabilitation program. The velocity of the dislocation plays a crucial role in the prognosis. Because high-velocity knee dislocations are associated with more extensive damage, it is unlikely that athletes who suffer these injuries will return to their original level of competition.

I don’t know about you, but this looks like high velocity to me (graphic, and probably NSFW). Given the 30% “return to form” rate for athletes with knee dislocations, it’s mind boggling that Lattimore is being selected in the 1st round of dynasty rookie drafts. Comparisons to Willis McGahee and Frank Gore will be made, but those are wildly off base. Willis McGahee’s knee was injured in a similar graphic way, but he only torn his ACL and MCL. Frank Gore tore both ACLs in college, but never had the catastrophic damage that Lattimore did. Simple ligament tears aren’t even in the same conversation as knee dislocations. While I don’t doubt that he has the intangibles to recover from such a terrible injury, the odds are against it.

The Conclusion

The number of experts recommending Marcus Lattimore in the 1st round of dynasty rookie drafts has blown my mind. The myth of top 15 talent lurking within is what’s keeping him in the 1st round, despite lackluster college performance and a knee injury that will likely prevent him from ever becoming a reliable fantasy producer. Even if Lattimore can overcome those hurdles, he landed in a terrible situation. Frank Gore is still the lead back, with Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James sure to have their roles. Some of us even like Jewel Hampton. The 49ers can cut Gore for nothing and $6.45 million next year. Should that happen, I expect an RBBC with Hunter (who I like a lot), and James. The best player to target now is Hunter, who’s coming off an Achilles tear. He racked up numbers in college, and while he’s slower for a 200~ pound running back, he’s incredibly strong and agile. Should Lattimore ever return to form, he’ll be mired in a RBBC with players who are more talented.

Even if you like Lattimore, there’s no reason to draft him. Let someone else burn their 1st rounder, and when they inevitably grow tired of waiting, buy him cheaply. Remember the high picks people were burning on raw players like Stephen Hill and Brian Quick last year? Would you trade your 1st round pick for them today? No, you wouldn’t. Think of Lattimore as a raw player, then imagine what his value will be in 2014. Spending a 1st rounder on him is like buying a brand new Crown Victoria. You just purchased an asset that’s going to lose 60% of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot.

There are better players to target with your late 1st round dynasty pick.

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5 comments
ParkeHarrison
ParkeHarrison

Very interesting analysis, although I have to take issue with your Crown Victoria comparison.  He is being drafted late in the first because of the injury - teams are almost universally high on his talent, in a vacuum.  Around mid-season when teams are out of contention his value will skyrocket on the assumption that he will take over next year.  The 2014 offseason and approaching the rookie draft will also be a great time to sell, if you are so inclined.  Drafting Lattimore, holding him in an IR spot all year and then trading him (if you are so inclined) should return much better value than the player you would take a shot on anywhere from 1.10 to 2.05.  I can't argue that you might be able to get him cheaper later, but if his value is plotted on a curve I think we are nowhere near the top of that curve right now, unless some "he'll never play again" type news comes out.  If you have any negotiating skill whatsoever, this is a strong play. 


coleman_ff
coleman_ff

@ParkeHarrison The main issue I have is the talent. I don't think it was there to begin with. From a pure talent standpoint, I think Le'Veon Bell is a much better back. There's a perception that people are getting a huge discount on a top 15 talent, but that's not the case. You're likely just getting an average talent, and that average talent is coupled with massive risk.

I disagree with the statement that there isn't a player you can get a much better return on in that range. Christine Michael is a player you can usually get in the middle of the 2nd round in a non-shark league, and his value is on the upswing. Zac Stacy in the 2nd round is a better pick that Lattimore in the 1st. Next years class is going to have studs in the 1st round, I can't see anyone trading a top 5 or top 10 pick for a running back who was just IR'd all season because his knee was wrecked. It's hard to envision a scenario where someone gives up an opportunity to draft Lache Seastrunk for Marcus Lattimore.

ParkeHarrison
ParkeHarrison

@coleman_ff @ParkeHarrison 

Hey Coleman - I understand your premise, and I get that you believe the talent was never there.  I also understand the severity of the injury and the longer odds associated with it.  No issues there.  What I don't see is the "he will never be worth what he is today and as a matter of fact if you take him he loses a ton of value right away" part of the argument.  The fact that you don't believe he is talented will not change the reality that almost everyone else does.  A year from now, if he appears to be on track to play there will be many fantasy GM's VERY excited about him.  Whether that is a reasonable expectation or not isn't really the point - trades will happen and his value will rise (barring setbacks and bad press).

As for better return, that isn't actually what I meant.  I agree that Christine Michael is a guy to grab and hold and I like Zac Stacy a lot (and have taken him in that range).  The question at hand is trade value and future vs. current value.  Of course, something could happen with Lynch and Michael could step right in.  But the higher probability outcome is 1-2 more years of Lynch before he takes that job.  Stacy could grab the starting spot and run with it.  He's very talented - I love the guy, personally - but NFL talent evaluators decided he was not worth taking in the first 4 rounds of a fairly unremarkable running back class.  I love Stacy - I'm very high on him - but he could easily be in a time share all year or worse - stuck behind Pead.  We have to recognize that possibility, whether it is what we expect or not.  With Lattimore, you can have a very high expectation of more future trade value vs. his current trade value.  As a matter of fact, I think the highest probability outcome is he has significantly higher value one year from now.  I do absolutely see him commanding top 5 first round picks or very good veterans from rebuilding teams within the year.  

So, in the end - we agree on most of this.  If you want to keep someone, take Michael or Stacy.  My point is simply this: if you want a draft and trade guy, Lattimore is one of the best options we have had in a long time.  The perception is that if he recovers, he's the next big thing.  It doesn't have to ever actually happen to net you a ton of value in return.     






ParkeHarrison
ParkeHarrison

@coleman_ff @ParkeHarrison 

Fair enough, brother, sounds good!  Great article, it was definitely thought provoking and interesting.  Very well done!  One more point to consider: Lattimore will not have played a down in the NFL yet in next year's rookie draft...much like all of the other players available in next year's rookie draft!  Just a thought...


coleman_ff
coleman_ff

@ParkeHarrison  I guess we'll have to wait and see! I just don't see anyone trading a top 5 pick for a player who hasn't played in the NFL yet. Dynasty owners are going to forget all about him after this year, especially if they see LaMichael James or Kendall Hunter perform at the level they have so far.