SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Marshon Lattimore was home for the holidays and he finally had some time to reflect.
Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore cornerback thought about all he had been through the last two years to get to this point and how much of a relief it was to finally be out on the field contributing.
“When I was home with my family, we talked about it a lot,” Lattimore said Thursday at Fiesta Bowl media day. “The past two years I’ve been injured and now that people are getting to see what I can do and they know what I can do.”
“They know I can play football and that’s a great feeling.”
It’s important to first understand why Lattimore feels such a sense of relief.
A once highly-touted four-star prospect out of Glenville High School in Cleveland, Lattimore came to Ohio State with rather lofty expectations. He was a top-50 player coming out of high school from a powerhouse program that produced plenty of NFL-caliber players and he was expected by many to be the next big thing.
But just a few days into his freshman season, Lattimore tore his hamstring and had to shut things down for the year. For a player who expected to contribute from Day 1, the setback was obviously frustrating.
Lattimore thought he was healthy heading into the 2015 season and was ready to be part of a cornerback rotation with Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, but the hamstring injury lingered. He never felt right and wound up appearing in just seven games with limited snaps. Again, frustration set in.
But after countless hours spent working on a number of different things — a change in diet, yoga, constant treatment and more — Lattimore finally got himself to 100 percent prior to this season.
Ohio State certainly reaped the benefits.
“That’s like my best friend and I know he deserves it for all the hard work he put in when he was hurt and going through rehab,” Conley said. “It’s finally paying off and I’m happy for him.”
“That’s like my best friend and I know [Lattimore] deserves it for all the hard work he put in when he was hurt and going through rehab. It’s finally paying off and I’m happy for him.”– Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
Seemingly out of nowhere, Lattimore emerged this year as one of the top cornerbacks in the country and he’s all of a sudden a top-flight NFL prospect. Lattimore started all 12 games at one corner spot this season for the Buckeyes and he has four interceptions and a team-high nine pass breakups on the year.
It sounds crazy since he only has one year of real playing experience under his belt, but Lattimore will have a decision to make following the conclusion of Ohio State’s season. His combination of size — Lattimore is listed at 6-foot and 192 pounds — speed, and ball skills have him pegged by many as a first-round talent.
“There are three main traits scouts look for at the cornerback position: play speed, instincts and competitive toughness. Lattimore checks those boxes while also showing the size and light feet to mirror wide receivers, matching up well with all types of pass-catchers,” CBS Sports NFL Draft Analyst Dane Brugler said. “He is a much-improved tackler and although he will guess wrong at times when jumping routes, Lattimore has the secondary quickness and recovery speed to make up for a lost step.”
“As only a redshirt sophomore, he still has room to grow and get better, but his improvements and development in 2016 as a full-time starter are what NFL scouts were hoping to see. Corner is arguably the third most important position on the NFL roster — behind quarterback and pass rusher — and all 32 teams could use cornerback help on the depth chart so his traits have NFL teams intrigued.”
Lattimore stated on a few occasions he’ll evaluate his future at the conclusion of Ohio State’s season, but the fact it’s even a discussion at this point is tough to wrap your head around. The Cleveland native still thinks there’s plenty of room to get better, too.
“I feel like I’ve played good, not great,” he said. “I can always get better at everything. I don’t get complacent at all and there’s always things that I look at in a game and say, ‘Man, I could have done that better.’ I can get better at a lot.”
When the Buckeyes meet Clemson on Saturday, Lattimore will face arguably his biggest test of the season with the Tigers’ talented stable of wide receivers led most notably by Mike Williams. A top-flight NFL prospect himself, Williams said he was awfully impressed with Lattimore on tape.
“When the ball is in the air, he plays the ball like a receiver,” Williams said. He attacks the ball in the air and I’m looking forward to the matchup. That’s why you play football.”
At this point, it’s unknown what the future holds for Lattimore. There’s a good chance he could leave Columbus having played just one full season.
But he was always going to a star at Ohio State. It just took a little longer than maybe Lattimore himself expected — and that’s to no fault of his own.
“Could he benefit from another season in college? Absolutely. He is still raw in several areas,” Brugler said. “But if he does declare, Lattimore will be in the first round discussion because of the potential he shows on tape. NFL teams want man-to-man corners and that is what Lattimore can be at the next level.”