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NFL Cincinnati Bengals

Should the Cincinnati Bengals draft Marcus Lattimore?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret the Cincinnati Bengals are in the market for a running back. In recent years they’ve signed veterans like Cedric Benson and Benjarvus Green-Ellis who have done an admirable job in their role. However, the Bengals haven’t drafted a top-tier running back in years. Many people believe the position isn’t as important in today’s NFL.

What if the Bengals could get a very talented player who could fill their need at running back without using a high draft pick? Former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore can be that guy. He would be the first back taken in this years’ draft if not for two plays that altered his career forever.

In 2011, Lattimore was considered the best college running back in the country. He led the Gamecocks to a 4-0 record and everything was going right for the reigning Freshman of the Year.  Then, in a game against Mississippi State Lattimore was hit in the side of his knee. He immediately fell on the ground grimacing in pain.

Lattimore missed the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. After months of rehab he was able to return in the 2012 season. Lattimore was fighting to become the game-changer that he once was, but hadn’t yet regained his pre-injury form when his bad luck continued.

Lattimore took a handoff against Tennessee and took a helmet to the inside of his knee as he was being tackled. This time his right knee was dislocated and numerous ligaments were damaged.

Now, nearly four months after the injury, Lattimore is rehabbing the knee and remains confident he can play in the NFL. Once projected as a first-round pick, Lattimore is just hoping for an opportunity to show what he can do.

“At this point it doesn’t really matter where I get drafted,” Lattimore told reporters at the NFL Combine on Friday. “I’m going to go in there and work hard and do what I do and do what I’ve been doing my whole career and that’s just being myself. If I get a chance to play this year I’m going to make the most out of it. And I feel I will.”

Lattimore has been praised for his hard work and dedication to the game of football. Dr. James Andrews performed the reconstructive surgery and has monitored Lattimore’s rehab closely. Andrews also performed a similar surgery on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returned to the field and won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award this past season.

Andrews praised Lattimore’s work ethic when he spoke to reporters at the NFL combine:

“He’s a real joy to help take care of, and that kid’s got as much character as any athlete I’ve ever worked with. I describe it by saying ‘joy,’ and he’s motivated, working every day. He’s way ahead of the game. And I’m almost his No. 1 fan trying to cheerlead him back and hope I can get him back for next season. It remains to be seen whether he can play next year or not.”

Knowing what we know about Lattimore should the Bengals draft him? Is he worth a third or fourth-round selection? He is the most talented running back in this draft and even though he has had two reconstructive surgeries the Bengals should take a serious look at him.

Lattimore could be guy the Bengals were missing in the backfield. He can catch well, make people miss and is tough to bring down. Even if he doesn’t play for the first six-weeks of the 2013 season, there is no doubt that he is worth a mid-round pick in this year’s draft.

If Marvin Lewis sees Lattimore available in the fourth-round he should select him. Lattimore is a high character player who will come in and work hard. That is the blue-collar attitude you want to see from highly-talented players. The Bengals have no reason to pass on Lattimore. He is a low-risk, high-reward prospect, who could bring his electrifying running ability to Cincinnati.