What you need to know: Lattimore landed in Columbus in 2014, but he didn’t make his presence felt until ’16. The main reason: hamstring troubles—he required surgery on his left hammy during his first year as a Buckeye, then tweaked the right hamstring multiple times in ’15. As a result, he entered his redshirt sophomore year with all of four career tackles. It didn’t take him long to make a significant impact last season, though. Lattimore picked off two passes (including a pick-six) in Ohio State’s second game, against Tulsa, then added another INT during a road win at Oklahoma. He finished the year with four interceptions, 41 tackles and 14 pass breakups, plus a second-team All-Big Ten nod (first-team by the coaches).
Strengths: He’s a cornerback with wide receiver quickness and a linebacker’s mentality.
Lattimore’s combine numbers highlighted the athleticism: 4.36-second 40, 38.5-inch vertical, 132-inch broad jump. He has an explosive burst, which shows up when he’s trying to mimic a receiver inside and even more so when he has to flip his hips and streak up the sideline. Receivers may make catches against him, but they are usually going to have to be contested ones. He rarely allowed his man to get separation during Ohio State’s 2016 season.
While Lattimore has decent size (6' 0″, 193 pounds), the manner in which he plays makes him an imposing playmaker. He pulls right up to the line in an aggressive press coverage, attempting to block off those inside releases and force players outside where his speed really shines.
As a run defender, he uses his hands to shed blockers the way that a defender on the first or second level might. Once he gets to the ball, he is a punishing tackler. The technique isn’t exactly clean (more on that below), but he drives hard with his shoulder to lay a lick. He’s not just occupying space until another defender arrives to help; he wants to end plays.
The NFL never knows, for sure, how a player is going to respond and mature once he reaches the professional level, so something always can go wrong. But as he heads into the draft, Lattimore is about as complete a cornerback prospect as there will be.
Weaknesses: Let’s circle back to the tackling. It is far from a fatal flaw, especially for a cornerback, but Lattimore’s desire to land a huge hit can leave him out of control on occasion. NFL running backs can bounce off even the most forceful of shoulder blows from a defensive back, so making sure that he wraps up will be a focus for Lattimore moving forward.
Aside from that, the lingering concern with Lattimore comes from the hamstring history.
“I actually had to get an MRI for my [left] hamstring, even though it happened all the way in 2014,” said Lattimore of his combine medical checks. “They still want to see if there is anything wrong with it. My hamstrings are fine right now, but I had to get an MRI on the one that I tore.”
A day after making that comment, Lattimore came up hobbling at the end of his combine 40. Initial reports on that injury pointed to the hamstring again, but Lattimore tweeted that he had tweaked his hip flexor instead.
The long-term durability concerns could be a knock against him, nonetheless. He’ll have to show, too, that his physical brand of play can be maintained against NFL receivers, most of whom will not hesitate to deliver a shot themselves when the chance arises.