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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.

PlayerCollegeYearATTs/GYds/GTDs/GYPC
Marcus LattimoreSouth Carolina201220.891.81.64.41
PlayerCollegeYearATTs/GYds/GTDs/GYPC
Trent RichardsonAlabama201122.3132.11.225.92
Mark IngramAlabama201015.672.414.63
Knowshon MorenoGeorgia200922.3108.514.88
Darren McFaddenArkansas200826.4150.90.895.71
Felix JonesArkansas20089.784.40.569.05

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).

PlayerCollegeHlt Yds/AttAdj. POEBlock Success Rate
Marcus LattimoreSouth Carolina1.5-2.234.30%
PlayerCollegeHlt Yds/AttAdj. POEBlock Success Rate
Eddie LacyAlabama2.652549.50%
Zac StacyVanderbilt2.4412.937.40%
Dennis JohnsonArkansas1.829.246%
Mike GillisleeFlorida1.650.651.80%

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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