PHOENIX -- If former Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore can stay healthy during his rookie season, he may just live up to the hype surrounding him heading into next week’s NFL draft.
Despite being one of the most talented players in this year’s draft, his health may be the biggest “if” surrounding Lattimore.
Teams who covet Lattimore, the top-ranked cornerback in this year’s class and the sixth-best player overall in the draft, according to ESPN, have one year of tape to base their evaluations on. He sat out his true freshman season in 2014 after having surgery to repair a torn left hamstring and was limited to just 84 snaps as a redshirt freshman in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus, because of a right hamstring injury. He then injured himself again during the NFL combine in Indianapolis in March, although it’s unclear if it was a hamstring or a hip flexor, like Lattimore tweeted.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Lattimore will have to prove his durability.
“I think … Lattimore will go on potential,” Kiper said.
But in 2016, his redshirt sophomore season, Lattimore blossomed, emerging as one of, if not the best cornerback in college football. However, Lattimore won’t be the one to tell you that.
“I just go out there and play, man,” Lattimore told ESPN. “I don’t really think too much on that. I just go out there and make plays. I don’t know. I let everybody else tell me how I am at corner. I don’t really think about all that.”
But when he was pressed, Lattimore described himself as a corner: “I’m tough, strong, fast, quick.”
Lattimore had four interceptions last season, and, according to PFF, allowed an NFL passer rating of 30.2 on throws into his coverage area. To put his performance last season into perspective, the NFL passer rating for quarterbacks who throw the ball away on every play is 39.6.
“I think he’s really talented,” former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano told ESPN. “Long, strong and fast, which for a corner is really the three biggest traits. I think he’ll be a fine NFL cornerback.”
When Lattimore gets drafted, which could be early in the first round, if he ends up on a defense that plays press, man-to-man coverage, he’ll feel right at home. Lattimore estimated he played man-press coverage “97 percent of the time” at Ohio State. If he’s put on an island as a rookie, that’ll be “no problem,” he said.
Lattimore showed in 2016, his first full collegiate season, how versatile he can be in man coverage.
He allowed an NFL passer rating of 2.8 on slant passes in his coverage area, according to PFF. He allowed two of 12 go-route passes thrown into his coverage to be caught last season, according to PFF. Of the 41 passes thrown into his coverage area, he broke up six of them, a display of his athleticism paired with his 6-foot frame. In addition to his coverage skills, he didn’t miss any of his tackles last season.
Which part of his game, though, is the strongest? Don’t ask Lattimore. He won’t tell you.
“I let everybody else tell me what that is,” he said. “I just go out there and play.”