The face of the NFL Draft has signed off on Marcus Lattimores decision to enter professional football this season.
"It makes sense to do what hes doing," ESPNs Mel Kiper said Tuesday. "Hes already shown when healthy hes a great college back. Theres nothing more he can do. To go back and risk another injury at South Carolina doesnt make a lot of sense honestly."
Lattimore has had reconstructive surgery on both knees in the last 13 months after tearing the ACL in his left knee last season and damaging several ligaments in his right knee this season. The 6-foot, 218-pound junior "cant afford a third" injury at the college level, said Kiper, who has made his name analyzing the draft for almost three decades.
"Hes probably thinking, Ive already shown them Im a great college back. Once I get back to 100 percent physically, why cant I have a great career?" Kiper said.
Few people know exactly what Lattimore is thinking because he hasnt spoken publicly since Friday when he told The State he was uncertain whether he would remain at South Carolina or enter the NFL Draft. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Monday theres a chance Lattimore will return to his team, but The State, ESPN.com and the Associated Press all cited sources Monday saying he plans to leave this year.
"He is the only elite running back, when he is healthy, in this draft," Kiper said. "Hes got first-round ability."
That doesnt mean Lattimore will be taken in the first round, though, Kiper cautioned. In fact, hes doesnt think he will and said almost anything is possible given the severity of Lattimores most recent knee injury. "I dont even want to say for sure," Kiper said. "When hes healthy he doesnt have tremendous speed, but he still shows breakaway ability because hes a great runner. I just put wild card next to his name."
Lattimores durability will be a concern for NFL teams, Kiper said.
"We will have to wait and see how the medical checks out," Kiper said. "Injuries are something you cant predict. You hope for the best. If you go back to South Carolina, there is always that risk again."
Lattimores 2,677 career yards in 29 games rank sixth in school history. All five players ahead of him on the list played four seasons at South Carolina. His 38 career rushing touchdowns and 41 overall touchdowns are both school records, and his 11 100-yard games are tied for second in school history behind George Rogers 27.
While this years draft doesnt have a lot of high-level running backs, it also doesnt have a lot of teams who will put a high priority on the position in the draft, Kiper said.
Kiper also touched on three South Carolina seniors who will enter this years draft defensive end Devin Taylor, safety D.J. Swearinger and spur DeVonte Holloman. Taylor is likely to be selected highest among that group but wont be picked until the third or fourth round, Kiper said.
"Not the productive player he needs to be," Kiper said of Taylor, the 6-foot-8, 267-pounder who had 40 tackles, three sacks and five pass breakups this season.
Swearinger and Holloman will be "day three guys," Kiper said, meaning picked in the fourth round or later.
As for next years draft, Kiper continued his high praise of sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who set the schools single-season sack record with 13 in the regular season. Clowney, who was named a first-team AP All-American on Tuesday, would be the No. 1 overall selection in this years draft if he were eligible to enter the draft. (NFL rules bar players from entering the draft until they are three or more years removed from high school.)
"Its not exaggerating to say if he were in this draft, he would the guaranteed No. 1 pick overall," Kiper said. "He is a special player, physically, athletically incredible. You cant block him one-on-one. The accolades just keep rolling in on Jadeveon Clowney. He is a spectacular player."