The numbers aren't pretty. 13 carries for 24 yards, and two catches for 12 yards. If you generously combine his total touches, fourth round pick Johnathan Franklin is barely averaging two yards per attempt. For the sake of context, last year's plodding preseason workhorse Marc Tyler managed to squeak out a 2.3 yard average on a whopping 45 exhibition game carries. This is not what we expected.
Franklin was supposed to be the lightning to Eddie Lacy's thunder, the flash to his smash, the third thing to Lacy's third thing. Despite a few promising practices early on, Franklin has been largely been a disappointment, tumbling down the depth chart to occupy a space recently vacated by Angelo Pease and next to dead-man-walking James Starks.
Predictably, Franklin is as frustrated with himself as any fan. His performance of late is nothing like the success he had in college. His final year at UCLA, Franklin rushed for 1734 yards and 13 touchdowns on 282 carries, a remarkable 6.1 yards per carry average. So on Sunday, Franklin took to Twitter to express his frustration.
Being that roster cutdowns were in progress and Franklin's been hardly inspiring so far, large sections of Cheesehead Nation somewhat predictably assumed that he'd been cut, but that wasn't the case. On Monday, he followed that up with a now-deleted ALL CAPS response to those people, and later clarified his remarks to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“I apologize if I sent out any negative vibes and made you all overboard," Franklin said. "I just needed to reconfirm that God is first. No matter what happens, God is first. I’m living for God. I’m living for an audience of one. It’s not about what the media’s saying or what people are saying. It’s just about being rooted in God and Christ.
“I don’t think it was frustration at all. I just think it was a reality check of just my life in general — if it’s football or not football. That I just need to redirect my life to God and keep him first.”
Now, it's important to keep a few things in mind when we think about Johnathan Franklin. First, he's a very young man and he's experiencing the trials that every young man goes through when he's transitioning from "young man" to just "man." Not only that, but he's doing it on a national stage for one of the NFL's premier franchises with ridiculous expectations on his shoulders. Wouldn't you be a little frazzled if you found yourself failing to meet those expectations while going through major life changes? I know I would.
Secondly, Franklin has huge expectations for himself. He's already expressed a desire to be the mayor of Los Angeles when he's done with football. Presumably he has similar high expectations for his pre-political career, so it's natural that he might be frustrated when success is hard to come by early on.
Thirdly, it's really obvious but important to note that NFL football is really hard, and it takes different players different amounts of time to figure it out. True, that "figuring it out" process doesn't always come to fruition, but for a player with Franklin's college pedigree, it's hard to think he won't ever have some success at the NFL level.
With those things in mind, consider what we've seen from Franklin so far in the preseason: tentative running, pushing into the backs of his blockers, and indecisive cuts in the backfield. All hallmarks of a young, inexperienced back. Compare that to the highlights we saw from Franklin on draft day.
That looks like a different player, entirely. In those highlights, Franklin is decisive, he hits the hole hard, and when he hits it, he's gone. That's the kind of play we were promised when Ted Thompson made him a fourth round pick, and given what we know about Franklin's personality, his drive, and his undeniable collegiate productivity, I think it's possible, and even probable, that the player we saw at UCLA is still going to arrive.
And lest we forget, the transition has been anything but smooth for the Packers' other rookie running back, the aforementioned Eddie Lacy. Remember when the Internet thought he was fat? Remember when he was injured all the time and didn't suit up for the first preseason game? Remember how he actually subtracted from the Packers' total yardage last Friday with -6 yards on eight carries?
You might not, and if you do, you're probably saying "yeah, but" right now and pointing to the 40 yards on eight carries he had against St. Louis or the solid outing he had in the Family Night Scrimmage. If that's the case, maybe all we need to see from Johnathan Franklin is a few shifty runs Thursday night and all will be forgiven.
Forming an opinion of someone based on social media is risky at best, and relying on secondhand accounts of a person is also not the greatest idea. But from what I've seen of Franklin on Twitter and from what I've read about him in the paper and on the Internet, I have no choice but to believe that he's a driven, hardworking young man that won't let initial difficulty bring him down. The road's been rough so far, but Franklin has a long way to go on his NFL journey. He definitely needs to speed up the transition, but I still think we'll see better days ahead for Mr. Franklin.
I believe in Johnathan Franklin. I hope you will too.