It was pretty obvious to anyone who watched Gators QB Feleipe Franks play this season that he improved significantly from 2017 to 2018.
The traditional stats show that pretty clearly.
- 2017 – 1438 yards, 9 TDs, 8 INTs, QB Rating 113.3
- 2018 – 2457 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs, QB Rating 143.4
The result is that Gators fans are pretty excited about what’s to come for both the Gators and Franks in 2019. So what should be a reasonable expectation for 2019?
Improvement from 2017 to 2018
First, a look beyond the traditional statistics.
Franks improved his yards per attempt from 6.3 to 7.6. But perhaps more important, he improved his yards per rush attempt from 0.3 to 3.2 while increasing his attempts from 58 to 110. All of that amounted to an improvement in his yards above replacement (YAR) from -1.45 to 0.19.
For those unfamiliar with YAR, a rating of 0.0 is average, 0.5 – 1.0 is good, 1.0 – 1.5 is very good and 2.0+ is elite. So that means Franks improved from terrible to slightly above average. To be honest, that feels right.
And we all had doubts about what might happen in 2018 based on what happened in 2017.
By YAR, Franks was the worst QB in the SEC in 2017. With no QB running game, Franks provided little value beyond his ability to throw the ball. And since he only averaged 6.3 yards per pass attempt (109th nationally among qualified QBs), Florida just couldn’t move the ball down the field.
As I stated above, Franks was very much a game manager in 2018. That shows in YAR, as he rated just middle-of-the-pack (7th) in the SEC.
He didn’t throw for over 300 yards. He was inconsistent, particularly against Georgia and Missouri. But he didn’t turn the ball over and actually played much better than some more heralded QBs coming into the season.
But one of the things I think is most interesting about YAR is that it doesn’t just tell us how much a QB improved compared to his own numbers. It also tells us how much a QB improved compared to his peers. And this is where Franks really shines.
Only Alabama had a larger improvement at the QB position than Florida did under Franks. And that involved a player who threw for 43 TDs and finished second for the Heisman Trophy. Also note that Nick Fitzgerald’s YAR decreased slightly with Mullen no longer around.
If you want to understand how Florida’s offense improved in 2018, look no further than this particular differential. 2017 Franks was worse than 2016 Luke Del Rio (-1.09 YAR). 2018 Franks was better than 2015 Will Grier (0.11 YAR).
How much can Franks improve in 2019?
Anytime you compare someone to Grier, you have to get excited. After all, Grier (after sitting out a year for a PED suspension) has lit up the Big 12 at West Virginia. And Grier improved from his time at Florida to put up a YAR of 1.21 in his first season in Morgantown.
But is that a reasonable expectation for Franks? After all, Grier never struggled like Franks did his redshirt freshman season.
The good news is you don’t have to look too far to find examples of QBs who struggled their first season under center and were able to turn things around.
Missouri QB Drew Lock had an absolutely putrid YAR of -2.38 his freshman year. That improved to 0.30 in year 2, 1.81 in year 3 and 0.54 in year 4. Georgia QB Matthew Stafford had a YAR of -0.33 in his freshman year, then -0.50 in year 2 and 1.12 in year 3.
It’s entirely possible that Franks will be able to follow this improvement pattern. But it’s just as likely that he made a leap from 2017 to 2018 and will only see marginal improvement moving forward. Indeed, this is the pattern that we see if we look at Mullen’s track record.
Mullen took over the Mississippi State job and immediately improved the QB play under Tyson Lee. Lee was still below average in 2009 but improved considerably. From that point forward, there aren’t any giant leaps by QBs outside of Dak Prescott from 2013 to 2014, and even that one is a lot lower jump than either Lee made from 2008 to 2009 or Franks made from 2017 to 2018.
There are actually quite a few times where Mullen’s QBs actually regressed: Chris Relf from 2010 to 2011, Prescott from 2014 to 2015 and Fitzgerald from 2016 to 2017.
If Franks can show the same improvement in YAR that Prescott did from 2013 to 2014, he’ll end up at 0.65, progressing from the average to good category. His line would likely end up something like the following:
That should be a season that any Florida fan should salivate over.
However, if Franks shows regression at the same rate as Nick Fitzgerald showed from 2016 to 2017, his line would look something like this:
This would be a season that would frustrate Gators fans considerably, as it would have the same marks of inconsistency that Franks showed at various times in 2018.
I have to be honest that I have no idea what we’ll see. What I do know is that in the examples I cited above of significant improvement (Lock, Stafford), there was a history of accuracy in high school, which I believe does translate to college.
Lock completed 66 percent of his passes and Stafford completed 65 percent of his passes in their senior seasons of high school. Franks completed 59 percent of his passes in his senior year of high school.
In the year Stafford improved his YAR considerably, his completion percentage increased from 55.7 to 61.4. For Lock, that increase was from 49.0 to 54.6 to 57.8. Franks just improved from 54.6 to 58.4.
What that means is that accuracy is going to be the key place that Franks will have to show improvement in 2019 in order to take the next step forward. I think the numbers suggest that he has probably capped out on how accurate he is going to be, which suggests consistency may still be an issue in 2019.
Add that there will be four new offensive linemen in 2019 and Franks may still improve considerably while his numbers regress because he is under pressure more often.
But Franks has earned the benefit of the doubt. He has taken an unbelievable amount of criticism and improved considerably in the face of it. He was the most improved QB in the SEC in 2018. That’s not a small accomplishment.
If nothing else, we now know that Florida has a QB who can win big games against big-time opponents. The big question is whether he can be that player on a more consistent basis.
What a difference a year makes.