Feleipe Franks did something remarkable in 2021: He stuck on the Falcons roster for an entire season. The reputedly raw passer out of Arkansas seemed like an obvious practice squad candidate for a team that hasn’t made a habit out of developing young quarterbacks for a long time, but instead he both stuck around and actually played, albeit not very often as an actual quarterback.
Franks’ confused 2021 role can best be described as Arthur Smith drawing Taysom Hill from memory in a pitch black room, as he chipped in on special teams, occasionally lined up under center, ran the ball a couple of times and lined up as a tight end. None of that really went anywhere in game action and as a result Franks was the source of no small frustration for this fanbase, who would’ve liked to see basically anyone else active and getting playing time over a lightly-used gadget option. That’s hardly Franks’ fault, though.
It became something of a running joke for me in the summer to stump for Franks as the backup quarterback, something I was pretty certain was not going to happen but did at least half-seriously entertain given that his size, tools and speed figured to make him interesting to noted Ryan Tannehill afficionado Arthur Smith. By the end of the season it was anything but a joke, as Franks seemingly swapped weeks with Josh Rosen as the team’s backup behind Matt Ryan.
All arrows, then, are pointing to Franks being someone the Falcons intend to have stick around. You won’t find much evidence for that in his statistics from last year, so let’s dispense with those and talk more about his season and his outlook.
2 carries, 3 yards
1 attempt, 1 interception
Rookie year highlights
Week 9 against New Orleans, when he carried the ball twice
Arthur Smith clearly likes Feleipe Franks. An undrafted free agent quarterback does not often stick on the roster for an entire season unless the coaching staff sees something worth developing. The question is really what they see with Franks and what exactly they’re developing him into.
The most obvious appeal here concerns Franks’ physical traits. He’s 6’6”, ran a 4.55 40 yard dash at his Arkansas pro day, and had moments of brilliance as a passer and runner in college at both Florida and Arkansas. It’s not stunning that the combination of size, speed, a cannon arm and Franks’ youth might make Smith squint and see a lump of clay he can turn into a versatile chess piece for an offense that needs to be rebuilt on the fly.
Year one didn’t offer much in terms of encouraging results for the experiment, but we got the gist of where Smith is going with this. Franks got playing time on special teams, mixed in occasionally lined up as a tight end, and took some snaps under center. The special teams snaps are going to need to be there for Franks is he’s playing a minimal role on offense, but ideally Smith is hoping that Franks can be a credible enough threat as a passer and runner that mixing him in at quarterback gives the Falcons a different look and causes some defensive confusion along the way. If he can actually become a credible pass catching threat and block well enough to snag a handful of snaps at wide receiver and tight end, then so much the better. Smith clearly hopes Franks can be this offense’s version of Taysom Hill, though there’s a reason there aren’t all that many Hills in the game today.
Franks is unlikely to ever become more than a backup quarterback with some utility value for Atlanta, but if he can get good enough at throwing and running the football to keep defenses on their toes and provide this team even 5-10 very useful snaps per game, I expect Smith will be plenty happy. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on him this summer to see what his role looks like and whether his 2021 season will be one of those one-off curios we talk about in 10 years or the beginning of a fun career in Atlanta.