SANTA CLARA — Marcus Lattimore won't have to look far for inspiration to make it in the NFL after a devastating knee injury. He'll find it standing next to him with the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers took a chance during Saturday's NFL draft by using a fourth-round selection on Lattimore, the South Carolina running back who suffered a career-threatening right knee injury last season just one year after tearing ligaments in his left knee.
San Francisco took a similar gamble several years ago when it spent a third-round selection on Frank Gore, who had suffered torn ligaments in each of his knees a year apart at the University of Miami before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season.
That risk turned into high reward for San Francisco as Gore developed into a four-time Pro Bowl star on his way to becoming the franchise's all-time leading rusher. The 49ers are hopeful of future rewards from Lattimore after making him one of their seven selections during Saturday's final leg of the draft.
The 49ers also looked elsewhere in the fourth round to add firepower to their offense by selecting wide receiver Quinton Patton out of Louisiana Tech three picks ahead of Lattimore. San Francisco addressed defensive needs in the fifth round with lineman Quinton Dial of Alabama and in the sixth round with linebacker Nick Moody of Florida State.
The 49ers completed their 11-player draft haul in the seventh round by selecting South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels with the No. 237 overall pick, Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski at No. 246 and Rutgers cornerback Marcus Cooper at No. 252.
"Excitement was in the air from day one through today," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said late Saturday afternoon. "When we get this entire rookie class together and walking out to the field, it's going to be one impressive-looking group."
The most intriguing pick is Lattimore, who figures he's in the right place next to the right people for a successful comeback after declaring for the NFL following his junior season.
"It's still surreal to me," Lattimore said after the 49ers made him the No. 131 overall pick. "This is a great opportunity with a great organization and I just can't wait to get there. I'm so excited I get to work with all the great running backs and everybody on that team and be a part of that running backs family."
Lattimore is particularly eager to meet Gore, who helped Lattimore through some dark days last season after a gruesome knee injury that left his leg pointing the wrong way. Lattimore dislocated his knee and tore three ligaments in it during an Oct. 27 game against Tennessee.
Lattimore received a phone call a few days later from Gore, who got Lattimore's number from 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who played with Lattimore at South Carolina. Gore, having experienced the same kind of ordeal before he joined the 49ers in 2005, told Lattimore to remain strong.
"Right after it happened, I doubted myself and I lost hope," Lattimore said. "But I got a chance to talk to Frank Gore, I got a chance to talk to Willis McGahee, and I realized everything happens for a reason. (Gore) knew he could come back from what he had and he worked hard and was determined. He told me to keep that positive mindset, and that's what I've been doing these past five, six months."