Johnathan Franklin (23), Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA’s all-time leading rusher in Johnathan Franklin was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th-round of the 2013 NFL Draft—just after Matt Barkley was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles and new head coach Chip Kelly. It was an interesting offseason for the Pac-12 and more so for Franklin, as his draft position dropped lower than expected due to some relatively exciting competition. However, in spite of the dip, Franklin was still rewarded with a four-year, $2.5 million contract, so he shouldn’t feel too bad.
The Packers are hosting a mandatory three-day minicamp this weekend to get the players acclimated to life in the league. Franklin will participate, contrary to popular belief (and initial reports), as he graduated last June and played the 2012 season as a graduate student. Hopefully, The Mayor will be able to establish himself enough during minicamp and prove to the Packers that they got a steal by snagging him with the 125th overall pick.
Leaving a mark should be at the forefront of Franklin’s mind, as former Alabama RB and three-time BCS National Champion Eddie Lacy was also selected by Green Bay. Lacy, while bigger than Franklin, has less of an instinct for the game and can’t cut on a dime like #23 did at UCLA. Nonetheless, they both have a nose for the end zone—Franklin scoring 31 times in his four-year career and Lacy scoring 30 times in a three-year tenure—so the competition should be fierce.
What does this mean for Franklin? Well, Lacy and Franklin are both great blocking backs, but they have a fair amount of differences. Franklin is a better pass catcher, whereas Lacy is a better tackle breaker. It’ll be interesting to see what the Packers need and how the backs’ talents translate over the course of their minicamps.
To address the former, the Packers need (on top of a better offensive line) a running back who can protect three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, who is widely considered one of the best QBs in the NFL, if not the best, was sacked 51 times last season. While both Lacy and Franklin could protect him, Lacy has the upper hand in this category by virtue of his SEC-tested body. Franklin will need to show that his blocking talents carry over to the professional level.
Last, but certainly not least, is to see how their talents translate. Franklin’s ability to weave around defenders will always be his calling card, but he should improve with a much better line than he had at UCLA. Lacy, on the other hand, has a tendency to break tackles, truck defenders and spin his way out of their grasp. His talent is much more vulnerable at the next level, as defenders are bigger, smarter and more agile than those in the NCAA. Both Franklin and Lacy could have outstanding careers, but only one can become the go-to guy.
Keep an eye out for more news on the battle for running back in Green Bay as the Packers continue to mull over Franklin and Lacy in minicamp!