Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina’s amazing sophomore running back, is a Heisman contender, future NFL 1st round draft pick and currently leads the nation in rushing. He’s arguably the best running back in the country (some would go with Alabama’s Trent Richardson).
But Lattimore also leads the nation in carries with 87 (on pace for 348) and Saturday Down South asked a good question: is South Carolina overworking him, and potentially harming his NFL future?
It’s a difficult question to try and answer, because unlike some who claim that every NBA player has a certain number of minutes in their legs, I’m not aware of a study that connects carries/workload in college to injury-rate in the NFL. Jason Lisk has done extensive work on workload/injuries in the NFL (yes, single-game carries are a problem) and even examined the “curse of 370.”
As a true freshman, Lattimore had games with 37 carries (Georgia) and 40 (Florida). He finished the regular season with 249 carries, which is high for an 18-year-old freshman, but not absurd when you see some of the names/numbers below. But Lattimore had 37 carries last week, and as the season wears on, it only makes sense for undefeated South Carolina to continue riding the shifty and powerful Lattimore to a potential BCS game.
Here’s a random look at some elite college running backs, how many carries they had in college, and a brief summary of how their pro career turned out. [Note: No conclusions are being drawn here between college carries and pro career.]
Ron Dayne: 1,220 carries (four years) – No. 11 overall pick in 2000 was never a productive pro. You could call him a bust.
Herschel Walker: 1,014 carries (three years) – Tore up the USFL for three years; then was a good (but not great) NFL player.
Ricky Williams: 1,011 carries (four years) – Had a few very good years in his mid-20s; injuries plagued him; rebounded for monster year at 32.
Archie Griffin: 924 carries (four years) – 1st round pick in 1976 was an average good pro despite being a legendary college back.
Earl Campbell: 765 carries (four years) – 1st overall pick in 1978 was a major star for four years, but then began to breakdown.
Adrian Peterson: 747 carries (three years) – 1st round pick is one of the NFL’s elite running backs right now.
Emmitt Smith: 700 carries (three years) – Went on to be the leading rusher in NFL history.
Chris Johnson: 624 carries (four years) – One of the NFL’s elite running backs right now.
Before anyone gets worried about Lattimore being on pace for 348 carries this season, here are a few things worth noting: Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State had a 344-carry season in 1988 (he had seven 30+ carry games; he finished the regular season with 2,628 rushing yards). Marcus Allen played sparingly as a freshman at USC, but as a junior carried the ball 354 times, and then as a senior he had a staggering 433 carries. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 339 times as a freshman, and then he carried the ball far fewer times the following two years (220, 188).
I’d actually be more worried about Lattimore’s carries next season, when his senior QB is gone, when the Gamecocks’ No. 1 wide receiver leaves for the NFL, and when the three seniors depart from the offensive line. Steve Spurrier may have no choice but to feed him 30+ carries a game. It’ll be interesting to see if the draft pundits note that Alabama’s Trent Richardson had 145 and 112 carries in his first two seasons – which is eight more carries than Lattimore had as a freshman. What will that entire extra season (or two, by the time the 2013 draft rolls around) of pounding Lattimore takes mean when he gets to the NFL?