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October 11, 2018

Ferguson: Breaking down Franklin’s journey back to No. 1 QB

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

Is there any quarterback journey in 2018 stranger than James Franklin‘s?

Some would argue Johnny Manziel. Maybe Zach Collaros battling injuries in his Riderville maiden voyage or Matt Nichols swinging his sword to part crowds of doubters but if you really think about it, the curious case of James Franklin ranks right up there with the CFL’s wackiest turn of events.

For over a year Franklin was viewed by most as the next hot commodity in a passer driven league. When he was traded to the East I applauded the Argos foresight in knowing Ricky Ray wouldn’t be around forever and planning the next step, but then the pre-season came.

Franklin found himself in a battle for the backup spot with McLeod Bethel-Thompson, which he eventually won, only to be pressed into duty after Ray suffered an injury in Week 2. In Week 2 relief duty, Franklin threw a bunch of strikes and ran through a Calgary defender on the goal line for a touchdown, which made me wonder if I had a misconception of Franklin’s skill set.

Maybe he was actually a power running quarterback to go along with his well known quick feet and a soft touch on the football?

After a bye week, Franklin got the start in Week 4 against his old team the Edmonton Eskimos and answered some of those questions by looking more than capable. Coming into that game he had one career interception to 13 touchdowns. He had gone 150 straight pass attempts without an interception and hadn’t been sacked in over 100 drop backs.

James Franklin was playing incredibly clean football, until Weeks 5, 6 and 7 of this year when the promising pivot threw five interceptions with no touchdowns. Each game told a unique story.

Right away I started to see how accurate Franklin was to his throwing arm side. He also posted an average of almost 11 yards in air per pass attempt through his first two starts – just above the CFL average – and was completing over 70 per cent of his first down pass attempts.

 

It was a very Ricky Ray looking stat profile that had Argos fans feeling hopeful for the still young 2018 season.

So what went wrong and how did he lose his starting job?

There isn’t one factor that doomed James Franklin’s first stint as Argos starting quarterback but the lack of run game consistency certainly didn’t help.

James Wilder Jr. hasn’t been his 2017 self this year for the most part and the team rolled in others such as Martese Jackson and Brandon Burks to try finding answers making back field chemistry difficult to develop.

That lack of chemistry led to the Argos calling passes on 18 of 19 second downs as Franklin’s second down pass completion percentage dropped from 72.5 per cent to 58.8 per cent.

 

That Week 6 game saw Franklin have his worst start of the season completing just 58 per cent of his passes overall for 151 yards and an interception while losing to Winnipeg. In that game suddenly Franklin’s vertical passing disappeared as his average yards in air per pass attempt dropped by over a yard to 9.8.

In Week 7, the Winnipeg rematch, Franklin threw three interceptions while only completing two passes over eight yards. He was trending the wrong direction and Head Coach Marc Trestman knew he had to make a change.

Now Franklin gets another chance to reclaim the starting role which leads me to ask, what did he do well and how can the Argos facilitate those strengths to have success down the stretch giving confidence to Franklin, who is under contract next season?

I love the way Franklin uses his size. A frame like that is unique which is why he’s been able to plunge into the end zone from a yard out so many times this year but why not use more power run in his personally designed offence. It can’t hurt for a quarterback who somehow always falls forwards.

Franklin moves well and has the rare ability to flip his hips and throw all in one motion which makes him a true threat from run to sideline throw as seen below.

 

While Franklin is no Johnny Manziel in the creativity department, he does have the ability to improvise and I hope the Argos let him experiment a bit in a more wide open system for the final month so we can see his natural ability to improvise come out.

 

James Franklin also has the ability to process from within the pocket and look off defenders at a high level thanks to his football IQ. It’s clear he’s coachable and understands how to move defenders with his eyes while keeping his arm ready to throw.

 

If he can combine his cerebral understanding of the game with some more power runs and isn’t afraid to take some vertical shots down the field, he just might be able to put some more green and yellow dots on his heat chart and build a disappointing 2018 into a turnaround 2019.