Through the first two weeks of the 2013 NFL season, Green Bay Packers rookie running back Johnathan Franklin appeared to be irrelevant in fantasy football terms. Things change quickly in the NFL, though, as Franklin now appears poised to seize the Packers' starting job.
With fellow rookie Eddie Lacy out due to a concussion and veteran James Starks leaving the game early with a knee injury, the full workload fell on Franklin's shoulders. Franklin didn't receive a single touch over the season's first two weeks, but he made the most of his opportunity on Sunday with 13 carries for 103 yards and a score, along with three receptions for 23 yards.
The UCLA product was viewed as a legitimate threat to win the starting job in training camp due to his explosiveness, but Lacy's power running seemingly impressed head coach Mike McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff.
Lacy provided decent production in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers with 14 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown as well as one catch for an additional 31 yards. He may have been on his way to a big performance in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, but he was concussed after just one carry for 10 yards, so he was unable to finish the job.
Starks stepped in for Lacy and came up with Green Bay's first 100-yard rushing performance since 2010, so he appeared to gain some traction in the running back battle. As has always been the case with Starks, though, an injury set him back. He had 55 yards on the ground in Week 3 before leaving the game, and now his status is uncertain moving forward.
The most impressive thing about Franklin's Week 3 showing is that he did it against a stout Cincinnati Bengals defense. The Bengals boast one of the best front sevens in the league, but Franklin picked up yardage at will. He also did it in relief, which proves that he'll always be ready when called upon.
It was very nearly a perfect day for Franklin other than a late fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Bengals defensive back Terence Newman. That return gave the Bengals a 34-30 lead, which ended up being the final score.
With the Packers now 1-2, McCarthy knows that he can't afford to have his running backs fumbling in crucial situations moving forward. At the same time, the reward may outweigh the risk when it comes to Franklin, as he appears to be the perfect fit for Green Bay's high-flying offense.
NFL.com's Michael Fabiano believes that fantasy owners should pump the breaks when it comes to adding Franklin, though.
The fact that Green Bay is on the bye in Week 4 certainly complicates matters. For one, it prevents Franklin from immediately building upon the momentum he generated in Week 3, but it also means that he has to wait even longer to atone for the late-game fumble.
In addition, the break gives Lacy and Starks time to get healthy, so Franklin could conceivably be No. 3 on the depth chart once again by the time the Packers take on the Detroit Lions in Week 5. Even so, Franklin is bound to make a fantasy impact at some point.
All signs point to Lacy being ready for Week 5, but Starks is a big question mark. Starks also happens to be one of the most injury-prone players in the league, so believing that he'll be able to stay healthy this season is wishful thinking.
Lacy is going to be the short-yardage guy as long as he is active, but Franklin showed a knack for the passing game in Week 3, which means that he could very well be the third-down back moving forward. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, that obviously bodes well for Franklin, especially in point-per-reception leagues.
Assuming Lacy returns to action and is able to stay healthy for the remainder of the year, that obviously caps Franklin's potential. The Packers have two talented and contrasting rookie backs who can form a dynamic tandem, though. With Lacy playing the role of thunder and Franklin representing lightning, the Packers may have their best running attack since Ahman Green was in his prime.
Franklin won't be an automatic fantasy starter if Lacy returns to the fold in short order, but he will definitely be worthy of flex consideration. Franklin is owned in just 1.3 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues currently, but he absolutely deserves to be on a roster in all formats.
The running back position is extremely volatile this season, and Franklin showed that he can produce when given the opportunity. He earned a share of the carries moving forward at the very least, and that could still yield big numbers due to his home-run ability.
Temper your expectations when it comes to Franklin as of right now, but add him to your roster in hopes that he carved out a role for himself in the Green Bay offense.
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