Johnathan Franklin: What Could've Been

The Packers will never know what they had in the former UCLA star running back.

First things first - I hope each and every one of Cheesehead TV's readers, writers and their families had an eventful and safe Independence Day. That means you as well, Jason Pierre-Paul.

Just a notch over two years ago, former Packers running back and UCLA star Johnathan Franklin was prepping for his own fourth of July with his friends and family. Only this time, unlike the gatherings in the past, it would be without football.

Franklin had provided a positive outlook for the future of the Packers' running game, despite his sluggish preaseason showing. Through the four affairs, Franklin tallied an abysmal 45 yards on 21 hand-offs. With Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the early stages of their partnership in the rushing attack, Franklin didn't see the backfield until a week three contest in Cincinnati.

Against Cincinnati, Franklin carried the rock 13 times for 103 yards and a touchdown with Lacy out of the lineup due to a concussion and Starks being forced to exit late in the first half with an injury of his own. At the time, not many could foresee the future with Lacy whom the Packers had selected in the second-round of the Draft. So with Franklin churning his way onto the scene, this provided hope. Especially for a team who hadn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. 

Obviously, as the 2013 campaign went along, Lacy ended up breaking that four-year drought. 

Alas, as Lacy's career had begun to flourish, another player's career hit a wall by the name of A.J. Jefferson.

On the opening kickoff return of a week 12 contest against the visiting Vikings, Franklin collided head-on with Jefferson and simultaneously fumbled in the process. It was the last time he would suit up for the Green and Gold and the last time he would play professional football. The Packers released him the following offseason.

"It's never easy releasing a player, but it's especially difficult when a young man's opportunity is taken away from him because of an injury," said Packers general manager Ted Thompson. "Jonathan is a great person, a wonderful teammate, and a man that lives by his faith. The Packers are fortunate to have had the chance to work wtih him and we know that he will excel in whatever the future holds for him. He will always be a member of the Packers family."

Just like that, all of the promise both on special teams and in the running game with Franklin had been wiped away in one fatal swoop. Had Franklin remained healthy, what role would he have played in the Packers' offense? Would he still even be on the roster? Unanswered questions that would require the useful tactic of assumption. 

Between the thunderous running style of Lacy and the quick, one-cut manuevering of Starks, it's likely Franklin wouldn't have been too big of a factor for opposing sides to figure out. However, a third-down option with a running back whose versatility matches his elusiveness opens a variety of options on how to utilize him. 

 

Many had compared both Franklin's style and body type to that of Darren Sproles, although Franklin would loom over him by four inches in the height department. The similarities in their playing styles were evident. 

Unfortunately, much like Sterling Sharpe, Jermichael Finley, Nick Collins, Terrence Murphy, Johnny Holland and many more, Franklin fell victim to the plague that has seemed to haunt Packer standouts through the years - head, neck and spine injuries. Fans may never know what Franklin could've brought to the table or if the Packers whiffed on selecting him in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft. 

Whether he would've been a menace on the field or not remains in question, but his passion for the game never deterred. Franklin went on to work in the team's front office to assist in business development and marketing sales before making the move to become the student welfare administrator at Notre Dame. Working behind the scenes is what the 26-year old has been limited to in life after football, but he doesn't exactly mind that.

He spoke to the Journal Sentinel just last year regarding his current outlook on his career and the path he's venturing down.

"Absolutely love it. I have an opportunity to be in charge of 750 student-athletes, creating these outreach programs. And I just became the liason for five different teams and I have the opportunity to meet with the head coaches and develop captains and leaders amongst the teams... I'd love to make my way back to California down the road even if it's an opportunity in Green Bay being in the front office. I do have goals. I do have dreams. Playing in the NFL and my career ending so abruptly, I take things one day at a time."

While Franklin remains at peace with himself in his new chapter of life, you'd almost have to bet he'd rather be out there helping the Packers bring home that slippery fifth Lombardi. 

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (17)

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Kid Culi's picture

July 05, 2016 at 01:51 pm

Great post. Brings back all kinds of memories.

I talked to Franklin last year at Notre Dame. Such a gracious and inspiring guy. Here's what I wrote about him then

https://scholastic.nd.edu/issues/62547-faith-sees-franklin-through/

My favorite interview I've ever done. My favorite story I heard about him, which didn't make it into the piece, was that he got kicked out of intramural flag football at Notre Dame for being too good. They had to put in a new rule that players needed to be at least 5 years or something removed from professional sports.

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Zachary Jacobson's picture

July 06, 2016 at 02:08 pm

Ah yes, you shot this to me on Twitter! Thanks for that, this was an awesome read. Franklin was (and still is) a damn good guy and incredibly gifted.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 05, 2016 at 02:07 pm

Losing Franklin sucked. Thanks for the memory.....
Green Bay has had AWFUL luck with injuries since 2006.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

July 05, 2016 at 02:53 pm

Absolutely. And it seems to always be a playmaker or rising star

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Zachary Jacobson's picture

July 06, 2016 at 02:10 pm

As much as I hated writing about him and watching more film on him because the thought of losing the guy just stinks, it was so interesting to just watch him do his thing. I'm just content with the fact that he's happy pursuing his next chapter of life and he still works within the sport.

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brewcityfan's picture

July 05, 2016 at 02:55 pm

Such a shame he never made it past that injury. His long run against the Bengals was a thing of beauty. Keep an eye on Don Jackson, similar body style with speed! Check this additional story on him if you're interested!
https://brewcitysportsreport.com/2016/07/05/running-for-the-53-don-jackson/

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Zachary Jacobson's picture

July 06, 2016 at 02:12 pm

Great read. You and Nagler both speak highly of the kid and I've yet to do my homework on him, so I'll take your guys' word for it. Any RB that resembles Franklin is a plus in my book. :)

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RCPackerFan's picture

July 05, 2016 at 03:08 pm

Franklin was one of my favorite players the Packers drafted. I loved his running style and abilities coming out of college. I thought he was going to make a perfect compliment to Lacy. We would have had our thunder and lightning.

I honestly don't question if Franklin still would have been here, but question if Starks would still be here.

Franklin is one of those guys that you never will know what it would have been like having him, but wish you could have found out. Franklin's short career eerily reminds me of Terrance Murphy's. Similar type of play that their careers ended on. Both careers were cut way to short.

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Nick Perry's picture

July 06, 2016 at 05:18 am

Exactly RC, we just don't know how good Franklin might have been. Given McCarthy's preference for "Bigger Backs" it may have taken him time to move up to number 2, but last year I wondered more than once what Franklin could have been doing in that offense. He'd have taken over the #1 RB position last year and may have never given it up.
I watched many UCLA games while Franklin was here and he was something. He even seemed to solve his issue of fumbling his last year at UCLA. (Yes I know he fumbled in the Cinny Game) I know this, had the Packers had Lacy, Franklin, AND Starks, there wouldn't have been a team in the NFL with a better backfield though I doubt James would still be here.
He also put up some good Combine Numbers for those that put a lot of weight in that.

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RCPackerFan's picture

July 06, 2016 at 07:16 am

I watched a lot of UCLA games when Franklin was a Senior. What I really liked was that the stuff I saw him do at UCLA I started to see him do in Green Bay. He definitely had a bright future.
I'm not saying he would have been a #1 back, but he for sure would have been a really good rotational back. He did have some fumbling issues, but a lot of young players do coming into the league. Look at Melvin Gordon last year. Adrian Peterson is another. And he did improve that in college. I think he would have given time in the pros too...

Last year is when I really think the Packers missed Franklin. When Lacy was going through his issues, they definitely could have used that additional piece. And the thing with Franklin was he had the quick speed to put stress on defenses. Something that Starks and Lacy don't have.

Franklin is definitely a player I miss a lot.

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WKUPackFan's picture

July 06, 2016 at 01:50 pm

Heard The Mayor interviewed several times on Petros & Money out of LA. He was always smart, entertaining, but also slightly serious. Seems like a good person.

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stockholder's picture

July 05, 2016 at 04:55 pm

Agree. Franklin could have been good. Very bad play call by MM. My hope is Cobb does not get hurt on a similar call. Leave the short yardage to the big men.

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Kid Culi's picture

July 05, 2016 at 07:11 pm

Those damn kick returns. Terrible play call. Should've had John Kuhn back there returning

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Zachary Jacobson's picture

July 06, 2016 at 02:13 pm

Although I see your point about Cobb being used out of the backfield because personally I'm not a big fan of it either, but Franklin was hurt on the opening kickoff return. Never saw a snap on offense in that game.

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Amanofthenorth's picture

July 06, 2016 at 01:51 am

It was such a ridiculous play, his injury. I think he still felt bad about the fumble in Cincy, and the next week, first time he touches the ball on the return, there's nowhere to go, but Franklin, being the big heart that he is, slams himself into a pile. Such a shame.

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Alfredo Martinez's picture

July 06, 2016 at 02:28 am

https://youtu.be/gETWSmE4LUU speaking of injuries, i remember this like it was yesterday...

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lucky953's picture

July 06, 2016 at 01:34 pm

There's a lot of "might have been"s in this league. Seemed like a very positive guy. I hope he has a great career in management.

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