What started out as a fun story during the relative doldrums of organized team activities has steadily morphed into one that can’t be ignored – the Atlanta Falcons might have found something in Feleipe Franks at tight end.
The second-year player has always had some crossover potential – he played a handful of snaps at tight end last season – but it’s notable how quickly the former college quarterback has taken to his new position. While Franks is listed at 228 pounds, a fairly light number for a tight end, he is also 6-foot-6 with the height and length to give defenders plenty of problems.
Every player in the NFL is a high-caliber athlete in his own way, however. What makes Franks’s early performance in camp notable is the variety of ways Atlanta has used him as a receiver and the comfort he’s shown in those roles. Tight end is a complicated role to learn at the NFL level, and while it’s unlikely the Falcons envision him doing the full range of jobs that the position entails, he’s looked ahead of the curve.
“Feleipe is impressive with what he is doing, and it says a lot about him and the kind of teammate he is,” Arthur Smith said of Franks. “...There’s been guys that made transitions to other positions, he’s a unique athlete and I love the way he’s coming out here and competing. He’s getting better every day and all he wants to do is help us win and I appreciate that about him.”
It remains to be seen just how sizable a role Atlanta has in mind for him this season. We are only nine practices into training camp, after all, which is an important caveat that shouldn’t be overlooked. And yet, Franks is making a compelling case for an expanded piece of the offensive timeshare.
There were two moments during Saturday’s practice that illustrate the unique collection of attributes he brings to the table.
The first, an almost-unintentional shove of cornerback Teez Tabor at the pylon during an early goal-line period that sent Tabor to the turf and demonstrated the amount of power Franks is packing in his long, lean frame.
The second was a much greater display of real-time athleticism. Late in practice during an 11-on-11 period, Franks worked his way free from his defender about 10 yards downfield on the right side of the field. He locked eyes with quarterback Desmond Ridder, but as the ball headed his way Franks began to stumble. Falling to the grass, Franks reached up with his long arms and reeled the ball in while practically laying on the ground.
It was the type of instinctive athletic showing that must have given Atlanta confidence that such a move could pay off in the first place. As the NFL continues to experiment with cross-position athletes in the same way the Falcons utilize Cordarrelle Patterson, the Saints utilize Taysom Hill and the 49ers utilize Deebo Samuel, these types of experiments may become more common.
For this trend to solidify, however, those blazing the trail need to show that it can be more than a gimmick. A player of Franks’s specific talents could prove very valuable if used in the right way.
As a former starting quarterback in the SEC, Franks certainly has the arm ability to throw the ball on trick plays when called upon. His length and size make him a natural red zone threat, and any surprises involving Franks near the goal line could be magnified due to the condensed field.
It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario like the one involving another former Florida quarterback, Trey Burton, unfolding at some point for Atlanta.
Even if a play like that never materializes for Franks, his quarterback alter ego is already paying dividends. Because the quarterback must—or should—understand all parts of the offense on any given play, Franks had a bit of a leg up, mentally, when he made the transition.
“That’s something that’s been like super on my side, I would say, going into the tight ends room,” Franks said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. “I know concepts. I know how Coach wants them run. I’m not saying that I do it perfectly every time, but, at the same time, I have an idea, a general idea, of what I want to do out there.”
The Falcons aren’t entirely abandoning Franks’s role as a quarterback – a smart move for the preseason because they’ll need to spell Marcus Mariota and Ridder at some point. He was seen taking some third-string reps at quarterback on Saturday, the final practice before a three-day block begins Monday in the leadup to Atlanta’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
Franks made a couple of nice completions on the afternoon, but the most enticing part of his future is now at tight end.
“Feleipe is a special guy. You saw it today,” Smith said. “For him to be able to do what he does, go in there and play multiple positions, that’s rare. I’m going to try to temper my expectations, but we’ll see where it goes. It’s fun to coach Feleipe.”
For a team needing to find some real answers for the future in 2022, Franks represents the ultimate mystery box. He could be the product of training camp optimism, or he could be a true offensive weapon with untapped potential. Whatever the case, and much like the Falcons themselves, Franks should be interesting to watch this fall.