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Feleipe Franks to leave Florida for NFL Draft or transfer

The man who could have been king is leaving with his head held high.

Florida v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Redshirt junior quarterback Feleipe Franks will leave the Florida Gators and pursue either entering the 2020 NFL Draft or playing a final year of college football elsewhere, he revealed in Sunday afternoon Instagram post.

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That note being formatted like many others put together by Florida’s program for its players suggests strongly that this is a decision Franks made in conjunction with Florida’s coaching staff, something that also fits with the timeline Dan Mullen gave about two weeks ago for beginning discussions with draft-eligible players about their futures. (The misspelling of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin’s last name would suggest that the program or Franks needed to give this another pass before publishing, though.)

For Franks and for Florida, this is likely the best decision — if a painful one.

Franks came to Florida as a raw prospect who very clearly wanted to be a Gator — and who might not have been an 11th-hour flip from LSU if only Florida had previously recruited his elder brother, Jordan, a tight end who ended up at UCF. After redshirting and not playing a single snap in his freshman year in 2016, Franks would enter each of the three subsequent years as Florida’s starting quarterback, improving in fits and starts and occasionally flashing both staggering promise and baffling brain-lock.

Benched repeatedly in 2017 for Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire, Franks nevertheless authored one of the greatest plays in Florida history in just his fourth game as a Gator, heaving a bomb caught by Tyrie Cleveland for the game-winning touchdown to beat Tennessee as time expired that September.

And after starting mostly hot (11 touchdowns to one pick in his first four games, despite a loss to Kentucky being among them) and cooling off (three TDs to four INTs in his next five games, just a 3-2 record, and a benching for Kyle Trask that may have become permanent if not for an injury to Trask just days later) in 2018, Franks delivered an inspired final stretch of play for the Gators.

Seemingly firing himself up by feeding off his status as an embattled figure, Franks infamously shushed Florida’s home crowd midway through a comeback win over South Carolina in The Swamp, then turned in two phenomenal performances in skewerings of Idaho and Florida State before a good but not great showing against Michigan in the Peach Bowl for the Gators’ fourth straight win to close 2018.

Franks was thus the starter again heading into 2019, and one whom many — myself included — thought could garner legitimate Heisman hype if he continued to build on his torrid finish to 2018 and led Florida to higher heights. But a puzzling effort against Miami in Florida’s opener, in which he mixed spectacular throws and stupefying decisions, erased a lot of the goodwill Franks had generated with Florida’s fan base, and even a record-setting, near-perfect performance in the Gators’ home opener — Franks went 25-for-27 for 270 yards and two touchdowns in a stomping of Tennessee-Martin — didn’t earn much back.

So when Franks struggled and then went down with what turned out to be a serious and season-ending injury against Kentucky, Florida fans were dismayed for him ... and also curious about what Trask and/or Emory Jones could show in his stead.

And when Trask piloted Florida to a comeback win over the Wildcats, he was hailed — and that has not changed since, as Trask has thrown for multiple touchdowns in all of his nine starts since, compiling one of the better statistical and steadier on-field seasons by a Florida quarterback in recent memory, with his yardage over nine starts eclipsing what Franks did with 12 in 2018 and his TD:INT ratio of 24:6 matching what Franks managed in 2018 precisely.

Trask, for arguably months now, has seemed locked into the role of Florida starter, with a team responding around him. And with Franks — considered by many a likely 2020 NFL Draft entrant prior to his injury, and previously considered a player who could have investigated the 2019 NFL Draft by some observers — relegated to cheering and helping out where possible, the writing was on the wall that Florida’s QB quandary could be difficult to solve cleanly.

Instead, with Franks now departing for possible NFL paychecks or a spot where he can rebuild his draft stock after injury, Florida appears to have that problem solved fewer than 24 hours after the clock hit 0:00 on its final regular season game. Trask is assuredly going to enter 2020 as Florida’s starter, Jones can be his understudy and Florida’s likely 2021 starter — barring Trask seeking and receiving a sixth year of eligibility through petitioning the NCAA — and recruits like Class of 2020 passer Anthony Richardson can be pitched on Florida’s future with a very clear picture of the depth chart.

Personally, I’ve always liked Franks, whom I saw immense potential in even as he struggled, and I would pit some of his finest moments against the best of any Florida quarterback for their aesthetic appeal. I caught flak earlier this month for suggesting that I still can’t shake the possibility that Florida could have been even better with Franks in 2019 — failing to make explicit that I was dreaming on a hypothetical version of Franks who could buff out his imperfections and retain his strengths — than it was with the stellar Trask at the helm, but I still believe in that theory: Franks is so physically gifted as a thrower (and decent as a runner) that if he can ever find a way to process playing quarterback like Trask does, his ceiling is still sky-high.

But Franks had a lot of time to take that hypothetical half-step, much of it under Mullen’s tutelage, and we didn’t see it happen — or, maybe more accurately, never saw that half-step without another one in the opposite direction. And Trask making his higher floor a level that could consistently win football games for the Gators while Jones — a more athletic player with more to grow on but also more eligibility remaining than Florida’s upperclassman passers — delivered his own bright moments. Had Franks chosen to stay, it would have been negligent for Florida to reinstall him as the Gators’ starter entering 2020, and any fallout from a three- or four-way quarterback competition could have lingered with that team.

Franks departing was always the most logical and cleanest path forward for all parties.

And sure, it might not be the absolute best-case scenario for Franks, a great Gator whose career will be remembered in many ways by many fans, but whose passion for the program and his teammates was always evident. But he now has something close to first-mover advantage among transfer QBs — and while that’s not as big a benefit to him as Florida’s fallout is to the Gators, it’s not nothing.

So, even as he leaves it, I think I speak for many within Gator Nation in wishing Feleipe Franks well and hoping he makes Gator Nation proud ... unless he lands on the roster of a Florida foe for 2020 with immediate eligibility.

Now that would be interesting.