The Pittsburgh Steelers could be a perfect fit for an “electrifying returner.”
According to Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo, the Steelers could be one of the “best” fits for multi-faceted offensive weapon in John Franklin. The speedy wide receiver most recently starred for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL this past season, spending time at returner and receiver. Franklin returned nine kickoffs for 222 yards (24.7 yards per return) and also caught 14 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
Franklin — who ran a 4.4 40-yard-dash at FAU’s pro day back in 2018 — could add value to the Steelers’ special teams unit.
“John Franklin is one of the more intriguing names still available, especially for teams looking to jumpstart their return game,” says Lombardo. “Franklin, 28, was a key piece of the Tampa Bandits’ offense during this spring’s USFL season, and showed a knack both for creating separation and coming down with contested passes. He’s also a potentially electrifying returner, on special teams.”
Franklin Has Played Number of Offensive Positions
The 27-year-old Franklin actually began his collegiate career at Florida State, spending his first two years there. He spent time as a scout team quarterback, while he was also a member of the relay team at FSU. He eventually transferred to the University of Auburn as a quarterback before finishing his career as a receiver at Florida Atlantic University.
Franklin entered the league as an undrafted free agent of the Chicago Bears, bouncing on and off of their practice squad. Eventually he landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, appearing in one game with the team during the 2019 season.
The speedy multi-faceted weapon has seen limited playing time throughout the course of his career. The most touches Franklin has ever posted in a season was back in 2016 with Auburn, when he spent time as the backup quarterback, passing for 204 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 46 times for 430 yards (9.3 yards per attempt) for two touchdowns.
After making the transition to receiver at FAU, Franklin caught seven balls for 95 receiving yards while rushing 16 times for 229 yards during his senior season in 2017.
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Steelers Could Use Franklin as Versatile Weapon
It wouldn’t hurt for the Steelers to add a multi-faceted weapon on offense, especially considering they could run trick plays with Frankl throwing the football. When one factors in that Pittsburgh is lacking depth at running back — Jeremy McNichols, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland are the current backups — Franklin could bring versatility that’s lacking at the position.
The Steelers signed former New England Patriots special teams ace Gunner Olszewski in the offseason. Olszewski is a former All-Pro selection, having led the league in punt return yards (346 yards) and yards per return (17.3 yards per return) during the 2020 season.
While Olszewski certainly excels in the punt return game, the Steelers could potentially look Franklin’s way to serve as a kick returner.
With the Steelers entering a new era without Ben Roethlisberger and a new quarterback in either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, the difference between wins and losses this season may come down to a play or two.
Franklin could be a potential X-factor as a high-reward/low-risk player.