Why Johnathan Franklin Is a Darkhorse for NFL Rookie of the Year

Marques EversollAnalyst IMay 1, 2013

Eddie Lacy should help the Packers next season, but Johnathan Franklin might be "the guy."
Eddie Lacy should help the Packers next season, but Johnathan Franklin might be "the guy."Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The NFL Rookie of the Year Award has been dominated by quarterbacks in recent years, but 2013 could be a little different.

Four of the past five award winners were quarterbacks, but this year's draft class featured one of the least talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. In 2007, Adrian Peterson won the award; 30 of the 45 all-time winners have been running backs.

The 2013 NFL Draft didn't have a Peterson or Trent Richardson-type player in the top ten, but a handful of second-round backs will look to make a major impact in their rookie seasons.

Giovani Bernard, the No. 37 overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals, should provide a nice "air-back" to complement their traditional, between-the-tackles guy in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Later in the second round, the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed Michigan State power back Le'Veon Bell, and the Denver Broncos reached for touchdown-machine Montee Ball.

But while Eddie Lacy was projected to be the first running back off the board, he fell all the way to the Packers with the second-to-last pick of Round 2.

Expected by many to spend the No. 26 pick on Lacy, the Packers opted to address the defensive line in Round 1. But when Lacy fell to the Packers in the second round, the team "threw up their hands and turned in the card," according to beat writer Bob McGinn.

A bum hamstring had prevented Lacy from completing a full pre-draft workout until April 11. And following a lackluster performance, teams became lukewarm on him, and he was ultimately the fourth running back off the board.

Matt Miller ranked Lacy as the No. 32 overall prospect in the draft, while NFL Network's Mike Mayock had him at No. 18. Both Miller and Mayock tabbed Lacy as the top back in the draft.

Lacy is among the early favorites for this year's NFL Rookie of the Year Award. And while the stars may be aligned for a rookie Packers running back to pose a threat for the award, it may very well be someone else.

While Lacy was the preference among many draft analysts, TFY Draft Insider's Tony Pauline tweeted that many teams had UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin ranked ahead of Lacy.

The biggest knock on Franklin is ball security. Franklin fumbled 18 times through his first three seasons at UCLA, but he only put the ball on the ground once during his 2,057-total yard, 15-touchdown senior campaign.

After spending two fourth-round picks on offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter, the Packers made a trade with the Denver Broncos to move up and take Franklin with pick No. 125. They had already bolstered their backfield by their second-round selection on Lacy, but Franklin's skill set could suit the offense even better than Lacy.

While Lacy should bring a hard-nosed, power aspect to the ground game, Franklin will add some "juice" that the team lacked last season at the position.

One day, Franklin plans to be the mayor of Los Angeles, but he may have to put those plans on hold because he has a chance to be the Packers' feature back moving forward.

As long as Aaron Rodgers is in green and gold, the Packers will rely heavily on the passing game. Franklin caught 33 passes and a pair of touchdowns as a senior. On top of being an effective receiver, Franklin, like Lacy, excels in pass protection.

The addition of Franklin and Lacy will be certainly make Rodgers a happy man.

At the conclusion of last season, the Packers' ground game relied heavily on street free agent DuJuan Harris. But after investing two draft picks on backs, Harris may have to take a backseat to the Packers' new young guns.

This year's crop of running backs is unique in that Franklin was my No. 2 back in the draft, and the Packers grabbed him in the fourth round, whereas Lacy was my No. 3 back, and Green Bay landed him in the second round.

It's anyone's guess as to how the tight-lipped Ted Thompson ranked them, but it's pretty clear the Packers held both players in high regard. And the fact that Thompson was willing to trade up for Franklin speaks volumes.

"I’ve watched Ted Thompson enough times in the draft room that when he goes up, it’s going up for something and it’s really good and that was definitely the case," head coach Mike McCarthy said in a post-draft press conference. "Very dynamic player, I’m excited to work with him."

It seems pretty clear that the Packers didn't expect Franklin to be available at the end of the fourth round. And when he was, they felt like he was worth their investment.

Whether the team is simply protecting itself from Lacy's lingering injuries or not, Thompson felt strongly enough to move up and take a second running back in the draft. 

Lacy should bring something new to the Packers' offense, but Franklin may be the more natural fit. One thing is for certain: the Packers are serious about improving their ground game.