In the weeks leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, NESN.com will be taking a closer look at this year’s quarterback class and how each player could fit with the New England Patriots. Next up: Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks.
Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
6-foot-6 5/8, 234 pounds, 9 3/4-inch hands
Projected round: Day 3
2020 stats: 68.5 percent (163-for-238), 2,107 yards, 17 touchdowns, four interceptions, 8.9 yards per attempt; 105 carries, 204 rushing yards, one touchdown (nine games)
Strengths: Size, arm strength, athleticism, throws well on the move, resurgent senior season
Weaknesses: Indecisiveness, touch, internal clock, inconsistency
Testing numbers: 4.59-second 40-yard dash, 1.70-second 10-yard split, 32 1/2-inch vertical, 117-inch broad jump, 4.22-second short shuttle, 7.16-second three-cone drill (Arkansas pro day)
Analysis: If New England takes a flier on Franks this Sunday, he’d own the rare distinction of being drafted by both the Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.
The Sox selected Franks, a former pitcher, in the 31st round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Having given up baseball five years earlier as a high school junior, he declined to sign, choosing to stick with football rather than pursuing a pro pitching career.
Eight months ago, it looked like professional football wouldn’t be in Franks’ future, either.
After a season-ending dislocated ankle in September 2019 and the subsequent emergence of Kyle Trask ended his rocky four-year tenure at Florida, Franks was not viewed as a viable draft prospect when he arrived at Arkansas as a grad transfer last offseason. A flat-out bad performance in the Razorbacks’ season-opening loss to Georgia (19-for-36 with two ghastly interceptions, including a pick-six) did nothing to change that perception.
But as the 2020 season progressed, Franks began to emerge as a draftable talent, albeit one with some clear flaws. After that ugly opener, he went on to throw 15 touchdown passes with just two interceptions over his final eight games, completing 71.3 percent of his passes. He finished the season with an adjusted completion percentage of 80.3 percent, per Pro Football Focus, tied for fourth-best in the FBS.
Franks followed that up with an impressive showing at Arkansas’ pro day, posting a Relative Athletic Score of 9.56 (out of 10). His 4.59-second 40 at nearly 6-foot-7 was eye-popping, and based purely on testing numbers, he’s the best athletic fit for the Patriots among this year’s QB prospects.
Of course, testing numbers mean little for quarterbacks, and Franks’ game — even during his improved 2020 campaign — features plenty of holes.
His ball placement was highly erratic on throws inside 10 yards, which made up 73.5 percent of his completions last season. He tended to hold the ball — and hold it, and hold it — taking sacks on plays that should have been throwaways. And despite his stopwatch speed, he rarely appeared fully comfortable as a ball-carrier, often looking like someone trying to run through sand and on ice at the same time.
Franks also was PFF’s lowest-graded quarterback in practice at the 2021 Senior Bowl, posting the lowest adjusted completion percentage (74.0 percent) of the six participating QBs and by far the highest rate of inaccurate passes (25.9 percent). Fourteen of his 54 pass attempts were deemed inaccurate.
As for positives, Franks was at his best when he was able to utilize his cannon of a right arm. He posted a sterling 147.1 passer rating on passes of over 20 yards in 2020, per PFF, and his film features some gorgeous deep balls, like this one against Tennessee, this one against Florida and this one against Texas A&M. Franks also can throw well on the move.
With his combination of size, athleticism and arm strength, Franks has the kind of toolsy upside that should get him drafted at some point on Day 3. He’s the definition of a project, though, and likely won’t be ready to play at the NFL level anytime soon, if ever.
There’s even a chance Franks will be asked to play a different position in the pros. NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah and Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy both have floated the idea of switching him to tight end.
“Feleipe’s got all the tools,” Nagy said during a recent “SportsCenter” appearance, as transcribed by 247Sports. “He’s one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in this draft just because of the arm talent and all the game experience in the SEC. I think any team that drafts Feleipe is going to be committed to a long-term, two-to-three-year plan with him. But if it’s just not working out over that span, I could see some time being open-minded enough to using Feleipe as a tight end.
“He’s 6-6. He’s got an 82-inch wingspan. He ran in the high 4.5s at his pro day. So very similar to a guy like Logan Thomas of the Washington Football Team. … Feleipe’s got very similar physical tools to a Logan Thomas. So, again, I think Feleipe’s a quarterback. But if two or three years down the road, it’s not working out, I could see that change being made.”
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Thomas played quarterback at Virginia Tech and early in his NFL career before moving to tight end in 2016. After several quiet seasons, he broke out in 2020, catching 72 passes for 670 yards and six touchdowns for Washington.
The Patriots are set at tight end, but if they’re looking for a developmental late-round prospect with potential positional versatility, Franks could be worth a look.