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The Evolution of Feleipe Franks

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Year one of the Mullen era was a rousing success in Gainesville; Franks was one of the faces rallying the Gators back.

Though the current scope of evaluation seemingly requires fans and pundits to issue decisive, inflexible opinions on student-athletes still introducing themselves at the college level, the shocking reality is that some football players actually develop. Coaching to comfortability, they do so, fascinatingly, for a wide variety of reasons. Beyond the barriers of the immediate-gratification culture, there are countless examples of talent simply needing a little time. Plenty of quarterbacks have been able to turn potential into production, Florida's Feleipe Franks included.

Entering his junior season, Franks is clearly on an upward trajectory. He, from year one to year two as starter, improved his passing yardage total, touchdown-to-interception ratio, completion percentage, yard-per-attempt average, quarterback rating, rushing yardage total and number of rushing scores. Correspondingly, Florida went from four wins to ten. Franks, still with work to do, played a key role in that progression.  

Like many, a redshirt freshman campaign came with growing pains for Franks. On a team hit with considerable roster attrition in the pre-season, and on a young offense without much experience, Franks, being the quarterback, took much of the criticism. A good bit of it, see 54.6% on completions and 6.3 yards per attempt, was warranted. Though challenging, Franks took it all in stride. Florida, in 2018, had a number of issues, from the head coach on down. Franks was not always great, but he was, in his first season playing on the big stage, accountable, taking the big blows and getting back up.

The Gators won just four games, lost six of their last seven contests and, uncharacteristically, missed out on the postseason. It was beyond a disappointing year for a program with three national championships this generation. Franks, at 6'6'', 240 pounds, was standing squarely in the spolight. Unfairly, he often became the singular talking point for a multitude of problems. Those struggles are now part of Franks' story.

Jump ahead and year one of the Dan Mullen era was a rousing success in Gainesville. Franks was one of the faces rallying the Gators back.

Florida saw a much more polished, proficient version of Franks last fall. He spent all off-season tirelessly working towards taking the next step, a progression that was mostly made. Mullen's influence obviously helped. So did the return of proven players up front, in the backfield and out wide. Though still with his weaknesses, Franks was a good quarterback for a very good team as a redshirt sophomore, a role he has been committed to earning.  

Franks' quarterback rating of 143.34, for point of reference, split right between Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur and Jake Browning of Washington on the national charts. That figure is the highest full-season mark at Florida since Tim Tebow, as were the 2,457 yards Franks threw for and the 24 touchdown passes he tossed. Since the end of College Football Hall of Famer Danny Wuerffel's era, Tebow is the only quarterback for the Gators with a better one-year touchdown-to-interception ratio than the recent 24-to-9 rate put up by Franks.

Completing over 71% of his passes against South Carolina and throwing three touchdown passes against both Idaho and Florida State, Franks also finished the fall playing the best football of his career. After nearly 250 total yards and two touchdowns in a win over Michigan, he was named Offensive MVP of the Peach Bowl. In fact, with all the big names in the league, Franks was the lone starting quarterback in the SEC not to throw an interception from the start of November on.

Add in Franks' rushing production and his redshirt sophomore year puts him in some rare statistical company. Here is a complete list, with heavy Mullen influence, of SEC quarterbacks with at least 24 passing touchdowns and seven rushing scores in a single season the last 20 years: Kellen Mond, Joshua Dobbs, Chad Kelly, Dak Prescott (2x), Blake Sims, Johnny Manziel (2x), Aaron Murray, Cam Newton, Tebow (2x) and Franks. Always open, the "24-7 Club" is an exclusive group. Notably, the only players to do it as underclassmen are Mond, Manziel, Tebow and Franks.

Mullen, an accomplished quarterback guru as referenced above, has done a great job of matching scheme with Franks' skill. The two quickly developed positive chemistry. Built almost like an edge rusher, Franks, the younger brother of an NFL tight end, has a wide array of physical abilities. Along with co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, Mullen made it a point to take advantage of those talents and put Franks in positions to be successful.

The strides that Franks have made are considerable. He helped Florida win games in 2018 and the numbers largely reflect that. Franks deserves credit for his persistence and improvement. In addition to the on-field advancements, Franks is a leader and has garnered that distinction through criticism and praise alike. He has been there through the good times and the bad, helping to close the margin. In some ways, Franks reflects the Gators' overall growth.

Expectations are fluid in college football and so, too, is the status quo. Nothing is guaranteed. Like every other player, Franks will have to continue to earn his spot atop the depth chart. At a place like Florida, talent is everywhere. Redshirt freshman signal caller Emory Jones is among those vying for playing time under center. Such competition is ultimately what drives players and programs forward. Who knows what the future holds and prospects like Jones are undoubtedly coming. But Franks, not long after many had made up their minds, knows where he stands; he is currently the starting quarterback for a pre-season top ten team.

When it comes to achievement, there is a fine line between elusive and exclusive; Franks, at the very least, is moving the chains. Florida, fresh off the momentum of four big wins in a row, will be one of the nation's most talented about squads all spring and summer and Franks, and his development, is part of the reason why. It's hard to win games and it's sometimes harder to change narratives. Stories like these should resonate.   

In an era of over-analyzing every single play, it's worth appreciating the process. Florida is on the rise. Through a trying transition, Franks has been out in front.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports