Marcus Lattimore suffered one of the worst leg injuries we’ve ever seen two years ago, and sadly, he never got back to 100 percent from it. The former South Carolina standout will reportedly retire after two years of trying to work his way back in the NFL.
Lattimore left South Carolina early — despite initially telling coach Steve Spurrier he’d return — and entered the NFL Draft after his junior year, the season in which he had that brutal injury. It was a risky move, given his first-round potential when healthy.
The 49ers selected Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and signed a four-year, $2.46 million contract with a $300,584 signing bonus. In a sense, though, it was a low-risk move — had Lattimore returned to South Carolina and, like in the NFL, not been able to play he certainly wouldn’t have been drafted and earned that signing bonus.
In hindsight, Lattimore made the right move to give the NFL a shot, get a signing bonus and earn a paycheck for a year and a half before calling it quits. He can always go back to South Carolina and get his degree if he so chooses. By all accounts, Lattimore is a good guy who hopefully won’t have any problem finding work in football if he goes down that path, too.
Lattimore’s situation highlights the often high risk, low reward life of a running back. The average NFL career for a running back is short; teams routinely cycle through guys on a year-to-year or even week-to-week basis. A knee injury, even one far less awful than the one Lattimore suffered, can be a career-ender.
That’s why it’s tough to ever blame a running back for leaving college early and taking a shot at the pros, even if he goes undrafted. Staying in school represents a huge risk — sure, there’s a payoff if a player improves from his junior to senior year, but that’s another year of getting banged up and possibly hurt.
Lattimore, as it turned out, suffered his career-ending injury in college and wound up still getting paid. It’s hard to say that was the wrong call.