Marshon Lattimore has everything an NFL team could want in a cornerback.
Lattimore, the Ohio State product who's widely believed to be the No. 1 cover man in the 2016 draft, has length, speed, incredible change-of-direction skills and a physical nature that allows him to be suffocating in press coverage.
There's only one drawback.
Lattimore has a history of hamstring injuries, and NFL teams must trust their team doctors to evaluate whether or not those problems will continue at the next level.
"That’s the first thing they asked me, how are my hamstrings, just tell them about my hamstring situation," Lattimore said. "But I’m a hundred percent fine right now."
When healthy, Lattimore's hamstrings carry a player who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.
Keeping them healthy has been the problem. Hamstring injuries forced Lattimore to undergo surgery at Ohio State and miss his entire freshman year; the same problem cut his second season on campus in half.
Only when he was able to overcome those problems did Lattimore really start to shine. Finally healthy in 2016, Lattimore was targeted just 35 times – he intercepted four of those throws and batted away 10 more.
"After camp, I felt most comfortable where I was at. I made it through a whole camp. The previous two years I didn’t make it through three days of practice," Lattimore said. "It’s not luck at all. I did yoga, I did extra strengthening exercise, I did stretching, all that."
The New Orleans Saints, a team that would likely need some help to see Lattimore still available at No. 11, know all too well how injuries can derail a promising prospect's career.
Especially at cornerback.
A combination of concussions and torn hamstrings have cost both of the Saints' 2015 picks at the position, P.J. Williams and Damian Swann, most of their first two years, and it's been part of a larger injury epidemic at cornerback in New Orleans. Delvin Breaux, who emerged as the No. 1 cover man in 2015, saw his 2016 season derailed by two separate injuries.
For two straight years, general manager Mickey Loomis has built what looks like a deep depth chart at the position, only to see injuries obliterate those plans and send him searching for help on the street.
"We are going to develop those guys, and yet at the same time, we are going to acquire more corners," Saints head coach Sean Payton said at the owner's meetings. "That is going to happen. Whether that is through the draft or through free agency, but we’re going to have competition at that position."
The good news is that Lattimore headlines a crop of 2016 cornerbacks that is deep and abundant.
"Teams that are looking for corners that can come in and act as plug-and-play players will certainly find some guys to their liking," NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks said.
According to some analysts, there might be as many as a dozen cornerbacks who can provide at least second-round value in this class, and in a group that close in talent, injuries can create some separation.
For example, Washington's Sidney Jones and UCLA's Fabian Moreau were both potential first-rounders until injuries at Pro Day – a torn Achilles tendon for Jones and a torn pectoral muscle for Moreau – altered those perceptions.
Then there are players like Lattimore who have battled injuries in the past, like Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie (turf toe kept him out of the Senior Bowl) or Tennessee's Cameron Sutton (fractured ankle).
"I just needed time to get right and rehab and I got right and now I'm here, ready to do everything," Awuzie said before running the 40 in 4.43 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.
Evaluating injuries can be something of a crapshoot. Neither Williams or Swann had any history of injury in their careers at Florida State and Georgia, respectively.
And no team wants to put an unnecessary flag on a player who's already overcome injury and is actually destined for stardom in the NFL.
In a deep class of cornerbacks like this one, little things can mean a lot as teams set their boards.
"There is a lot of talent here from top to bottom," Lattimore said. "A team is going to get a great player from the first round to the fourth round. It ís a deep draft, and I'm honored to be considered one of the top cornerbacks in the draft."