Going into the draft, ideally prospective teams looking to invest in your future are solely talking about your play. No other red flags are blaring in any fashion. With Ohio State cornerback, Marshon Lattimore, it’s not that simple. One of the top defensive backs in the 2017 draft, and for some the consensus best individual cornerback, has well, a murky injury history to say the least.
Since the Chicago Bears could be looking for a young boundary cornerback: Where do we even begin here?
The junior in Lattimore had a sparkling year in college last season but missed the majority of his first two years at Ohio State due to a torn left hamstring in 2014 and a strain in his right one that sidelined him for most of 2015.
All of the talent and pedigree is readily available and easily visible. In fact, “complete” has been thrown around more often than not in descriptors. It’s just a concern if he’ll ever be able to stay on the field consistently.
Lattimore’s prior trials only preceded a hip flexor injury at this year’s Scouting Combine where he was supposed to alleviate some of the concerns in his previous injuries.
To put it lightly: None of this is exactly the clean bill of health you’re looking for in a franchise player.
But Lattimore isn’t worried and is quite adamant under this intense scrutiny of his physical well-being and about how his future in the NFL stacks up. He knows how much of these injuries could define his future so he immediately took to Twitter post-workout at Combine to clarify that his hamstrings weren’t shaken up.
Wasn't a hamstring injury, it's my hip flexor. I'm good y'all lol— Marshon Lattimore (@shonrp2) March 6, 2017
To be fair, that looks like an injury to another leg area that could be weakened by less-than-able hamstrings in compensation, so it doesn’t take the pressure off of him. But Lattimore does have everything to lose on these constant reports. And, fairly, he won’t relent as he notes how aggressive NFL teams are in trying to discern the risk in selecting him.
“That’s the first thing they asked me. How are my hamstrings, just tell them about my hamstring situation. But I’m a hundred percent fine right now,” said Lattimore of interviews with scouts and evaluators.
In many ways, availability is the best ability any professional football player can offer. Does it really matter how talented you are if you can’t stay on the field? You have to be reliable enough to make plays and actually be available to make said plays.
Teams like the Bears with the third overall pick can select Lattimore while full well knowing the questions surrounding him and it still might work out, though. With all caveats in consideration, the 6-foot, 193 pound, 21-year-old might be a day one starter and immediate impact player.
And Chicago certainly knows full well what he could offer too, which is why they’ve still done their due diligence in having Lattimore in for a private visit, along with his college teammate, Malik Hooker. If you want to know everything about a player and not give up on his potential, you screen him through all processes.
It could be possible that even after the injuries suffered to their last two first-round picks in Leonard Floyd (less serious) and Kevin White, that the Bears aren’t afraid of bringing in guys when they take talent into consideration. Remember that they’re still confident in White despite his leg injuries in his first two seasons and that Floyd’s frame development mitigates all concern to them from his rookie season.
In that light, what could be a chronic hamstring issue with Lattimore instead goes by the wayside. I’m not sure how wise it is to invest such high draft capital, again, into a player that needs to become a star, bar none. But if the Bears make the evaluation to take the risk with him, why not? Let the stars decide, right?
It’s not like other prospects in this class don’t have questions. You just have to decide who you’re comfortable with.
And if Chicago does end up taking Lattimore, they’re getting a pretty good football player as evidenced by his 41 tackles, four interceptions, and nine passes defended last season.
Here’s what ESPN’s draft guru, Mel Kiper, had to say about the underclassman in Lattimore.
“The one guy (in this class) that I think has a chance to be one of the top three corners in the league is Lattimore,” Kiper said. “I really think he has a higher ceiling than any of the other corners.”
Quite the high praise for a guy with all of the talent in the world while simultaneously having possessing of the injury questions.
Indeed, Lattimore checks all of the boxes in being praised for his coverage ability, instinct, fluid hips, quickness and willingness to be physical around the line of scrimmage in run support. On that speed, he also ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the Combine before his hip flexor injury. Have no fear in him being able to keep up with the fastest professional receivers.
The one-year college starter has also drawn some high quality current NFL player comparisons.
From the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, to the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson, to perhaps the most apt in style of play, the Colts’ Vontae Davis, he’s being put in a high class of defensive back. Lattimore playing at any one of these players’ levels would be a thrill for the Bears for years (along with their relative durability).
Who knows, maybe Lattimore’s career sinks due to what could be chronic hamstring issues. Or maybe, he becomes the Bears’ first true young franchise cornerback since Charles Tillman as he mans one side of the field for them for a decade, shadowing and erasing star receivers. Roll the dice and work it out.
Lattimore definitely knows what he brings to the NFL table.
“I got the confidence that I’m one of the best, but I had to get healthy enough to show that I’m one of the best and that’s what I did this year.”
Bears position outlook: Cornerback
Bears’ need: High
Current depth chart: Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Marcus Cooper, Prince Amukamara, B.W. Webb, Johnthan Banks
The situation: As can be seen quite clearly, the Bears currently don’t have a number one cornerback on the roster. They have a bunch of solid contributors that qualify more as second corners and guys who play primarily nickel.
There’ll be a lot of competition in camp to what will ultimately boil down to a likely final six roster slots. Pencil in a veteran such as Webb for that spot and save the other for a young drafted cornerback wherever.
Best available: Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
As noted, even with all of the injuries, if you look past them, Lattimore is the best cornerback in this draft and can be a superstar for awhile. It’s just going to depend on how healthy he is. Other notables include his teammate, Gareon Conley, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, and Florida’s Teez Tabor, who all potentially might not make it out of the first round. It’s a very deep defensive back class to find value in.
Something to keep an eye on:
Be on the lookout for Fuller’s future in Chicago. If he can’t stamp out a spot in an upcoming try out at safety in the summer, he could be a trade candidate at some point. It seems the writing is on the wall for both the Bears and the fourth-year player to part from each other.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.