Kevin C. Cox
There seems to be a contingent of Bengals fans that are clamoring for Cincinnati to take the South Carolina running back with a high pick in this year's draft. We take a look at that notion and analyze if it's a wise idea.
Believe it or not, the Cincy Jungle staff keeps a watchful eye on the comments and FanPosts here (they are all entertaining in one way or another) and we've recently began noticing a trend: Bengals fans want South Carolina running back, Marcus Lattimore. They don't just want Lattimore, it seems that a relatively large group of Bengals fans want him within the team's first four picks in 2013. Needless to say, the opinions on Lattimore to the Bengals are polarizing.
In case you're not familiar with Lattimore, he had a very productive 2010 season as a freshman that followed with two seasons cut short by two major knee injuries. At 6'0 and 220 pounds, Lattimore is a load that actually has decent speed for his size. Even suffering two major injuries in two consecutive seasons, Lattimore still had double-digit touchdowns in each of his three seasons (38 total).
In case you missed it, Cincy Jungle's resident draft guru Joe Goodberry labeled Lattimore one of his "Late Round Gems" and has him as his 19th-best running back in the draft this year. Comparing his running style and injury situation to Willis McGahee, Goodberry's assessment of Lattimore stated:
The truth is, the Bengals need an impact back in this year's draft. Why? Because this team is in the midst of a window where they can knock on the door of a Super Bowl appearance. Depending on how many young stars they can keep going forward, this window could only have a few seasons left to be open. A qulaity back that can complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis' skills could put this young offense towards the top of the league.
Goodberry's assessment of Lattimore potentially not being able to play in 2013 isn't that far-fetched. His 2012 injury occurred on October 27th, so being ready less than a year away for Week One of the 2013 NFL season could be pushing it. Simply put, the running back that the Bengals grab this year must have an impact. Nobody is sure that Lattimore will be able to provide that this year.
We also don't know if Lattimore is the type of back that the Bengals are looking for this year. They seem to like the steadiness and power of Green-Ellis, so they'll likely look to add a "lightning" element with the "thunder". Lattimore plays a bit more like Green-Ellis with more wiggle.
In last year's draft, there were two running backs that most Bengals fans wanted to see in stripes: Chris Polk and Lamar Miller. Most were saying that Cincinnati should take one of these players as early as round two and both would make an impact. However, "shoulder concerns" made Miller drop to the fourth round and "knee issues" caused Polk to go undrafted. Vontaze Burfict made a mockery of the pre-draft process and went undrafted. None of these players had the injury history that Lattimore has, yet they tumbled on draft weekend. With two major knee injuries, where would Lattimore conceivably fall? As it appears right now, the value just isn't there for Lattimore in the early rounds.
That's not to say that the Bengals shouldn't take a late flyer on Lattimore should he be available. Sometimes that is what the picks in rounds five through seven are for. Given his injury history and ability level, Goodberry has Lattimore ranked in that range this year, and frankly, so do we. The first four picks this year (and where some Bengals fans have Lattimore "mocked" to the team) have to be players that are penciled in as either starters or immediate contributors. As much as we don't want to admit it, there are still a number of holes to fill on this roster, and yes, running back is one of them. Dre Kirkpatrick was an exception to that rule last year, but again we have to start thinking about "the window" going forward with this team.