March 18, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: Franklin a player to watch in 2019

Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes

Of all the quarterback talk this off-season, and there’s been a lot of it, we’ve seldom heard the name James Franklin mentioned.

It’s understandable knowing all the big names that have made news; Bo Levi Mitchell stayed in Calgary, while Mike Reilly, Trevor Harris, and Jonathon Jennings all changed teams. But don’t sleep on Franklin, because year two in Toronto has the potential to be really successful.

Time sure does fly by fast. Let’s not forget Franklin’s acquisition was a blockbuster move only one winter ago when the Argos acquired him from the Eskimos. Toronto made a pretty hefty price, too; Franklin cost them 2017 second round pick Mason Woods, who has the chance to be an anchor of Edmonton’s offensive line for years to come.

Franklin wasn’t a coveted player going into 2018 free agency for no reason. In three seasons with the Eskimos, he gave us glimpses of his high end athletic ability and what things might look like if he we were at the top of a depth chart. Sure, year one with Toronto wasn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean everything we saw in him has disappeared.

» Argos a mystery in off-season power rankings
» Bio: James Franklin by the numbers
» The art of the interview at CFL Combine

After 286 passing attempts in 2018, James Franklin is set for his first full season as a starter (The Canadian Press)

Franklin’s skill-set suits the CFL perfectly: he has a strong arm and ridiculous athleticism, which allows him to extend plays. Even while taking a back seat to Ricky Ray and Mcleod Bethel-Thompson last season, Franklin was still the guy in goal-line situations. He just happened to excel there, too; Franklin finished with a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns.

To be honest, I was a little surprised Franklin didn’t get more of an opportunity last season, too. When Ray went down early on, Franklin got his opportunity to start earlier than most anticipated and definitely had his struggles. But I thought Head Coach Marc Trestman gave Franklin the hook too early, which didn’t allow him to work through inevitable growing pains.

Not only was Franklin routinely starting games for the first time in his professional career, he was doing it with a new team minus significant first team practice reps. With all those things factored in, an adjustment period was almost guaranteed. In hindsight, that’s why I think going to Bethel-Thompson after only four Franklin starts was really premature.

The Argos acquired Franklin to make him the quarterback of the future. Yanking him after four weeks was somewhat counter-intuitive to what Toronto was trying to accomplish with him. As such, I really wonder what their season might have looked like had they stuck with Franklin a little longer.

That curiosity level got even higher seeing how Franklin performed when he was given the starter’s job back late in the season. Franklin moved back to the top of the depth chart in the fourth quarter of a Week 17 loss to the Lions and would start the final four games of the year for the Argos.

In those final 17 quarters of action, Franklin’s accuracy was up over 65 per cent and he threw five touchdown passes against three interceptions; his ratio in the four starts he made earlier in the season was 1-6. That shows some really promising growth in his decision-making and is a very encouraging sign to start 2019.


And, Toronto has something this year they didn’t have in Franklin’s first year with the team: multiple high-end targets. SJ Green is coming off a second outstanding season with the Argonauts, despite a rotating door of quarterbacks in 2018, and now he has a new partner.

Toronto’s acquisition of Derel Walker gives Franklin two perennial 1,000-yard threats and a true dynamic duo. Walker and Franklin have history going back to their time in Edmonton, which adds even more intrigue to that signing. When you factor in the incredibly consistent Armanti Edwards and James Wilder Jr., well, Franklin has the chance to lead a pretty impressive attack.

Franklin is right near the top of my list for players to watch for the coming season, because I think another year with the Argos will do him well. Plus, he won’t go into training camp clearly behind Ray on the depth chart, which gives him more opportunity to come out of his shell.

He may not have been talked about a lot this winter, but James Franklin is one to watch this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s a leading breakout candidate in 2019.

A true organizational test

The CFL Fantasy Podcast returned for 2019 late last week and Hannah posed a question that had Krever and me in different camps. We know how much turnover we’ve seen this off-season from the Calgary Stampeders, but does that mean the Grey Cup Champs are poised for a step back?

Krever’s belief is the Stamps are venturing into uncharted waters with the losses of Alex Singleton, Micah Johnson, Ja’Gared Davis, Jameer Thurman, Ciante Evans, Chris Matthews, Marken Michel, among many others. He’s not wrong, that is an absolutely star studded list of departures, but this is also Calgary we’re talking about.

That’s why I’m not so quick to put the Stampeders in “step back” territory this season. Over the last decade, there isn’t an organization in this league with a better track record of scouting, identifying, and maximizing talent than Calgary. It’s not really close, in reality, and that’s why the Stamps never get caught up in paying premiums to keep high end talent (current quarterback excluded).

One thing Jeff and I do agree on, though, is how much of a test this is going to be. Can players like Derek Wiggan, Ese Mrabure, Junior Turner, and Cordarro Law step into the void left by Johnson and Davis? What about the massive hole left by Singleton and Thurman at linebacker?

General Manager John Hufnagel is going to have a mighty task on the defensive side of the ball, there’s no doubt. But how can you not have at least some confidence his personnel staff will get the job done again? The resume has too many wins on it to bet against Hufnagel and company.


Will Mike Reilly get off to a quick start in BC? Plus, who were the other big names to change teams this off-season? Pat, Jeff and Hannah look forward to the new season with MVPs, breakout stars and more in an off-season edition of the CFL Fantasy Podcast.

And one area I’m not worried about is on the offensive side of the ball. Bo Levi Mitchell’s return means the most successful quarterback-coach tandem in the league remains in tact. Head Coach Dave Dickenson has a scheme, he has an incredible eye for procuring the players who fit that scheme, and Mitchell makes the most of the talent around him. It has been the formula for five seasons, so why would it change now?

Sure, Michel and Matthews have gone south, while Lemar Durant and DaVaris Daniels have signed with different CFL clubs in free agency. But, led by Eric Rogers, Calgary has a receiving crew that also includes Reggie Begelton, Markeith Ambles, and Juwan Brescasin, all who had monster games at different times last season. When Kamar Jorden returns from injury, that group gets even more dangerous.

The Stamps went through an absolute revolving door at receiver last year and yet still waltzed their way to a Grey Cup title. Mitchell is the league’s best quarterback in part because it doesn’t matter who he has around him; he just makes everyone better.

Finally, with Don Jackson and Terry Williams, Calgary has a dynamic duo at tailback and should have no problem running the ball in 2019. Jackson is one of the most talented running backs in the league and was right there with Andrew Harris in yards-per-carry average last season. He’d likely have one or two on the yardage table without missing five games due to injury.

In the end, I definitely agree the Stampeders have their work cut out trying to stay head and shoulders above the rest of the league this season. But if there’s one team primed to tackle the challenge, it’s Calgary. Let’s see if they stay on-brand in 2019.