Lattimore opts for NFL draft: Good or bad choice?
With that brief bit of background, let's look at some of the pros and cons of this decision to enter the NFL draft instead of returning to the college game for another year.
Lattimore will be a middle of the pack pick-up for a team who is willing to be patient and let him rehab for a year. If Lattimore went back to South Carolina, he could potentially play himself back into a top pick situation. On the other hand, he could also have a disappointing year that might convince teams he couldn't recover from these injuries. By going now, he is a pick in the top half of the draft, but not the top pick that he was before the injury. Again, he could risk it and potentially play himself back to the top pick, but he could also play himself out of the draft completely - there's a much greater risk in going back.
The NFL now is a better decision. It's a (potentially) lower pick than if he were able to play again and go as a top pick, but it is a sure pick. Going back for another year in college brings the risk of more injury, not coming back as the same player, or perhaps not coming back at all (no rehab is guaranteed).
Most people seem to agree that Lattimore will have to rehab for almost an entire year and that it is unlikely he will see any on-field action next year. By going into the draft, Lattimore will have access to the best doctors and facilities available (nothing against SC's facilities) and will be able to devote himself to the rehabilitation process full time. Oh, and he will be making some money while doing this. As a student-athlete, he won't have quite the luxury of full time devotion to this process (regardless of how cynical you are about the "student" in student-athlete) and won't be making any money while doing so.
NFL is clearly the better choice. Focus on the rehabilitation process full time with the best facilities and trainers while making a living.
While I'm sure that Lattimore has his needs met by and large at SC, he is not being compensated monetarily for his efforts and achievements on the field. It would be a shame if he went back to SC, had a disappointing year, essentially ended his hopes of an NFL career, and never made any money off his talents as a running back. In going to the NFL, he will make some money while rehabbing; even if he is a bust or is never quite able to play, at least he will have made a little bit of money for the work that he has done.
Take the money! You may not get the huge signing bonus or contract now that you otherwise might have gotten (or could potentially get if you went back and had a stellar year at SC), but it's better to guarantee yourself some money now and if you do come back strong from the injury, then there are always new contracts and contract extensions where you will be compensated.
Based on these three fronts, I believe that Lattimore is clearly making the best decision for himself and his future career as a football player. Many have dubbed this as a parallel situation to Willis McGahee's decision to go into the draft after his knee injury at Miami. He has gone on to have a long and very productive NFL career. I hope that Lattimore is able to do the same and wish him a speedy and full recovery.