Handle With Care: Determining the Value of Marcus Lattimore

Breaking down what to consider when dealing with San Francisco running back Marcus Lattimore.

Some players are easy to figure out. Some are far more volatile and require you to handle them with care.

With every offseason, we see situations arise in the NFL which make our job as fantasy owners stickier then we'd prefer. Be it a new quarterback/wide receiver pairing, a high rookie draft pick or competition at a position we thought was solid for a team, there's always something going on which we need to be careful of.

Over the next few months, we'll be taking a look at various players and situations in flux and help you determine how to maximize them and embrace them, how to manage expectations or in some cases avoid them altogether.

Marcus Lattimore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

Had it not been for the massive knee injury Lattimore suffered against Tennessee last fall, he would have been the best running back in the 2013 NFL draft class. It's not even close. That said, the injury did happen and is compounded in the minds of many fantasy owners by the fact that it was the second major injury in just over a year (the first being a torn ligament in the left knee against Mississippi State the previous year).

Meanwhile, Lattimore has been on a mission to let people know he is going to come back, and come back strong. He showed at the Senior Bowl to make sure teams knew he was serious, was ahead of schedule at the Combine, got a standing ovation at his Pro Day and has been working so hard rehabbing since joing the 49ers that they've had to tell him to throttle it back.

With the massive talent he had pre-injuries (even after the first one), Lattimore is a guy who has to be on your radar and one you'll have to weigh the pros and cons off this draft season.

There are two things fantasy owners have to consider when deciding how to approach Lattimore not just this coming season, but with an eye towards the future as well.

What Kind of Recovery?

The obvious first question is "How likely is a full recovery?"

Our own Dr. Jene Bramel wrote about Lattimore a couple of times during the draft process and is definitely optimistic, pointing to both the recent recovery of Adrian Peterson, as well as the similiar injury and lengthy career of current Broncos running back Willis McGahee.

As Bramel points out in his article, despite a bad injury late in his college career, McGahee "averaged 290 carries and missed only three games in his first four seasons in the NFL."

So it sounds very much like Bramel believes Lattimore will return to the field and be effective - perhaps even reaching his previous level of ability.

Everything points to a full recovery and given how high he would have been taken without the injury, that is very exciting.

How Long to Wait?

The second question an owner has to ask himself is how long he's going to have to wait for that recovery before having Lattimore pay off.

In the case of this question, it actually depends on whether you're drafting in dynasty or redraft.

We know Lattimore is working hard and determined to have an impact sooner than later, but also that we are looking at a backfield with an established star and multiple other backs who are very good. So the 49ers have no reason to rush Lattimore out there. For them this is a marathon, not a sprint. They want Lattimore healthy before stepping on the field and aren't backed into a corner where they need him to start.

Which is pretty much how a dynasty owner needs to approach this as well. If you feel confident - that all signs point to a return to a high level of skill for Lattimore - he has to be an early pick in your rookie drafts. In many drafts, he can be seen going anywhere from 6th overall to 10th, but rarely dropping out of the first round.

In other words, owners are not majorly concerned with the long-term ramifications of his knee injuries.

It also means you can't wait on Lattimore if you want him.

On the other hand, you can't be in a position of needing him this year. You have to be able to keep him on your Taxi or Practice Squad - or eating an active roster spot - until he is actually ready to go.

If you have a solid stable of backs who can carry you, consider him anytime in the Top 6 - especially if you aren't hard up for a wide receiver.

Once he recovers, Frank Gore will be basically done or near enough, and while LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter are good, none of them are as good as Lattimore if he's 100%.

But you have to be patient.

Now, redraft owners are likely to be able to get him very, very late - if not pick him up off the waiver wire during the season (according to our Average Draft Position rankings, he's considered RB36 as of June 5th). Should they?

Again, it depends on your depth. For redraft owners, you have to make sure there isn't a spot wasted. Depending on format, you might need more depth at receiver or you might need an extra tight end.

Drafting Lattimore might be something to consider very late in the draft for a deep roster league, but in many leagues you can't afford to do it.

Even if you do (or wait a few weeks and dump whatever "what the heck flex" type guy from your bench to do it), you are unlikely to get you money's worth for most of the season. Again, while Lattimore is pushing hard, the team is trying to keep him from hurting himself again by going to hard and getting ahead of himself.

The Minnesota Vikings did the same thing last summer with Adrian Peterson. If it was up to Peterson, he would have been taking snaps in July, but the team (wisely) held him back.

Long term outlook possibly sacrificing short term game.

It's the same with the 49ers and Lattimore, though with even more reason to push the running back. Again, with the depth the 49ers have there is no need to run Lattimore out there - unlike the Vikings who really needed Peterson for as much of 2012 as they could get him.

The other problem with grabbing Lattimore is this - say he plays sometime in Week 13 or 14. Do you put him in? Do you risk it? How much will he play? How effective will he be in his first game back? Or even his second or third?

The theory of having Lattimore on your squad "just in case" is all well and good, but it's unlikely he gets enough carries early enough for you to know that yes, this week is the week to start him over some other flex player.

For a redraft owner, it's best not to grab Lattimore this year, as much as there is to like about him. He's unlikely to perform short term - and redraft leagues are all about short term.

The exception to this could be for keeper style redraft leagues where you might be able to pick Lattimore up late enough to make him worth sacrificing a pick in another draft to keep him.

In the end, Lattimore almost needs to be handled by fantasy owners as if he was a late round NFL draft pick or even a street free agent. Can he have an impact this year? Sure. He appears to be ahead of schedule and wants desperately to prove himself.

He probably won't though, and so dynasty owners have to show as much patience as they would for any other late draft player, while redraft owners should avoid him.