College Football, Florida Gators

After a successful 2018, what should our expectations for Feleipe Franks be for 2019?

Gators QB Feleipe Franks makes a throw against Michigan. (Image used under Creative Commons license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/) via MGoBlog.

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.

YAR for SEC QBs in 2017. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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.

YAR for SEC QBs in 2018. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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.

Differential in YAR for SEC teams from 2017 to 2018. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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.

YAR values for Mississippi State starting QBs from 2008 to 2017. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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.

Takeaway

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:

Franks likely best-case improvement for 2019. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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:

Franks likely worst-case improvement for 2019. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

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.

15 Comments

  1. Mark

    Franks had a good year and I am impressed with his improvement. However, the best chance for the biggest improvement we could see at QB will be if Emory Jones can come in and run the offense. Hats off to Franks and I like him as a person. I am really impressed with his character and dedication that we saw this year, but it was clear to me even in limited throws that Emory Jones will be significantly more accurate than Franks. I believe Emory will be starting by week 4 next season, and we will see a huge jump in QB play. Only time will tell, but my fingers are crossed!

    • Jdoug23

      I think it’s jalon Jones that (not even trying to compare him to this QB) pulls a Chris Leak and starts in game 4 Emory is below average athletically has neither enough wiggle or power nor speed to be an effective runner and is way more raw in terms of accuracy or arm strength than felipe was when he came in has anyone ever watched film on this guy or just look at his rankings … even his play in mop up duty was nothing to rave about… Jalon Jones has better size runs a legit 4.4 and has arm strength comparable to franks (see weighted sparq toss) and is above average in the accuracy department…. he is also a VERY VERY smart kid

      • Will Miles

        https://www.readandreaction.com/2018/03/11/379/ Emory Jones film study. Haven’t had a chance to break down Jalon yet.

        • Mark

          Just based on Mullen’s unwillingness to play freshman quarterbacks alone, I would say there is a slim to none chance that Jalon gets the start this year.

          I am super excited about Jalon, and I am a little nervous for Emory that if he doesn’t overtake Felipe this year he may never play because I could see Jalon starting next year. But I did see a lot to like from Emory this year. His touch on deep balls seemed far superior to Felipe and I believe Mullen has proved he can scheme guys open. I think we will see Emory take advantage of open receivers downfield to make his life a lot easier while he develops the ability to read defenses and hit the medium throws he’ll need against UGA and (hopefully) Bama.

  2. GatorMiami

    So are mine Mark!

    Will, You’re just short of back to your old position as chief Franks propagandist. Your stats leave out a lot of reality.

    First all the hype about 23 TD passes, but you know that most of them (12) came from 3 games (where Dan allowed him to pad his stats)…. the two cupcakes & putrid FSU. (Six vs possibly the worst team in cfb.) Where are the SEC stats?

    Then lets look at 13’s completion percentage. Same criticism. His stats are buoyed by Florida’s weakest opponents. The 58% that everyone loves would be around 50% if you looked at SEC opponents only. But I’m sure you heve that exact figure, just forgot to mention it.

    I’m not saying that Feleipe didn’t improve. After being not such a willing runner the first half of the year, he actually became agressive toward the end of the season. But Franks continued to stare down single targets and miss wide open receivers.

    FF’s passing has been in question and everyone I know was ready to dump him after Mizzou. It’s doubtful that Emory would have been worse in that category. And it’s taken for granted that EJ is a far superior runner. Where would he be now if given the attention and experience that was lavished instead on Franks? That’s my question. And if we see another similar season, don’t be surprised to learn that Jones has entered that infamous tranfer portal.

    I know you say you like opposing opinions, but I don’t expect to see this in print.

    A contrary opinion.

    • Will Miles

      I only reject comments when they are offensive, personal attacks or political. Since I pay to host the content on this site though, I get to make that decision.

      As for your critiques of Franks, many of them are valid. I suggested in the article that I don’t know whether he’ll continue to improve, regress or basically stay the same. My conclusion is likely the latter as his completion percentage in HS indicates improving accuracy will be a difficult ask.

      At the same time, he’s had to endure criticism, both fair and unfair, for two straight years now and has improved considerably in spite of it. If you prefer EJ to him, that’s fine.

      But fans asked him to improve, and he improved more than any other QB in the SEC. I’m not sure what else you want, and to suggest that pointing towards his improvement as a positive sign is propaganda is more dishonest than any of the things you’re accusing me of.

  3. RANDY

    Thanks for the breakdown. Was surprised to see the regression on a couple of the years. Wonder if that’s a product of talent around them or maybe putting too much on their plate.
    Anyway, I expect Franks to be better next year. He was playing with some swagger at the end of the year and I don’t see that going away. Plus plenty of film to look at and learn from.

    • Will Miles

      I think it has more to do with pulling back on the amount of running that the QB does once he establishes the ability to throw the ball. That was especially true for Dak in year 3 (went from 210 carries to 160) and Fitz (went from 195 to 162 carries from Y1 to Y2).

  4. Lindell

    Appreciate the analysis. My biggest concern moving forward with FF has been the accuracy aspect of his game. Some say you are born with accuracy. Improvement through practice would be marginal at best. His will be a great test test case for that hypnosis. I think the regression issue should also consider SEC caliber defenses adjusting to the QB tape and taking away what he likes and does well.

    Just my two cents, thanks

  5. He needs to continue to learn and grow both as an athlete and as a person, Mullens will continue to lead and teach him and the other QBs, the best man will win and if it’s Franks so be it.

  6. Ready

    I just hope somebody does good.. whether Emory Jones or Felipe Franks.. but if I was asked I would say give Kyle trask his due shot.. we’ve been through a long drought at qb and I hate to pull the plug on a kid with as humongous of a heart as Franks and maybe it wasnt time to do that or still isn’t, but I’m saying from after the redshirt freshman year that him and trask both redshirted (I think trasks was due to an injury correct me if I’m wrong or was it rs sophomore year that he was injured) trask never really got a shot and I felt like he could be,or could have been, more consistent leading the offense.. we’ll never know but maybe next year if he can bounce back from his latest injury.. as for the article and the analysis I think it describes well what we all seen this year, our boy Frank’s got better.. I get what they’re saying about padded stat games but nonetheless I’m proud of him and the season they had, and if hes our guy next year I’m all the way behind it..

  7. CGator

    Will, I thought the article was very fair, and another good job by you looking at a wide array of information. And without doing some deep research, my memory is that if anything, before the season, you were very doubtful that Franks could improve as much as he did. So to now be much more positive seems like you are a fan of reality, and let the facts speak for themselves. I find it doubtful that Franks can improve as much this off-season as he did in the last, which supports your concern about his ceiling. Then again, he and Mullen surprised everyone with how much better he got. He improved as a runner, in reading his progressions, and taking care of the ball. His keeper call against Michigan indicates he is understanding the offense, a key point.At this point no one knows what he will look like next fall. Seems prudent to wait and find out. If anything, by now Gator fans should have enough confidence in Mullen’s judgment and coaching with QBs to trust the decision that will be made months from now. I’m guessing that if Franks retains the starting job, we will still see more of Jones next year.

  8. Wayne

    Franks’s improved stats in 2018 resulted from:
    -Franks getting better coaching
    -additional game due to no hurricane cancel like had in 2017
    -more playmakers at skill positions on offense 2018
    -no 9 players suspended and numerous injuries like 2017
    -better conditioned and upperclassmen on the OL
    Primary differences in 2019:
    –losing 4 starters on the OL

    Due to the loss of 4 starting OLs and a more difficult schedule, statistical improvement should be limited in 2019 (injuries as usual will be the wildcard)

    • Mark

      Statistical improvement will be almost impossible from Franks because (as was mentioned by the announcers several times at the end of the season) these were the best QB stars UF has had since Tebow. Franks is no Tebow.

      However, I think your list, while accurate, doesn’t tell the whole picture because it assumes all of the factors are close to equal in importance. I believe Dan Mullen changing the offense to take advantage of the QBs skills was the biggest factor in Franks improvement, BY FAR. Franks will still have that going for him next season. You also left off another boon for 2019: the fact that the entire team is running the same offense for the second season in a row, instead of changing to a vastly different scheme.

      I believe if Franks does start again next season (and I’m on record saying that I DON’T think he will) then he will have stats approximately equal to this seasons, but he will be more consistent and therefore a better QB. Without the missed throws vs. UGA and the awful half’s vs USC and UMissouri, he seems like a much better QB right now, even if the stats are almost the same.

      I think that’s the Franks we get next year, but I believe Emory still beats him out because he is a more dynamic player overall, with better deep accuracy.

  9. Joe

    Depending on the OL, I think Franks improves in 2019. He’s got nine months to work with his receivers on accuracy. It will be his second year with the same receiving corps, with the addition of
    Jacob Copeland. I think Mullen integrates his excellent stable of TEs (Pitts, Gamble, Krull, Zipperer) more into game plans, which should help FF to improve his completion percentage. His running backs will be as good or better than last season. And I’m guessing Savage helps FF put on 5-10 pounds more muscle, especially is his lower body, which should make him an even more effective runner than he was at the end of 2018.

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