If you have read any of my Armchair Addict posts over the last month you know by now that I am in favor of the Chiefs signing free agent nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. There are some that are on record as being in favor of this move, but there are also some that have voiced several concerns with this move. The main concerns include: he’s too expensive, too small, too old, not good enough/not enough tackles, was only playing hard for a contract, there are better FA options out there, and we’d be better off just using some combination of Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith, and Jerrell Powe. In this post I will debunk ALL of these worries using both material from my previous posts and some new material.
Am I obsessed with the idea of the Chiefs signing Franklin? Yes.
Do I feel I have the information to back up that obsession? Yes.
I’ll address all of your concerns about bringing this big man to KC after the break.
Concern Number 1 – Franklin is too expensive
I already explained how the Chiefs could afford Franklin in this post without it being a high risk that will hurt them financially in the future. Here’s a quick summary. The Chiefs have had one of the lowest team payrolls in the NFL the past few seasons. Many expect there to be a raised salary floor in the upcoming CBA agreement. That would mean that the Chiefs would NEED to spend a chunk of money for this upcoming season. If the Chiefs front loaded Franklin’s deal with most of it coming in the first couple seasons and then dropping off in the later seasons of the deal it would help them meet the salary floor these next two years but then make him affordable later on as his play started to drop off.
Concern Number 2 – Franklin is too small for a NT
Franklin is listed at 6-1 and 317 pounds. Now, that is not massive by NT standards. However, if we look at the long tenured starting NTs of the Steelers and Ravens (two of the elite 3-4 run stopping teams) I think you’ll see that Franklin’s size is not an issue. Let’s start with the Ravens. Now the Ravens have some HUGE defensive linemen on their roster. Haloti Ngata is listed at 6-4 and 350 pounds and recent draft pick Terrence Cody is about the same size. So which one starts at NT for the Ravens? Neither, the Ravens starting NT is Kelly Gregg who is listed at 6-0 and 320 pounds. Why is this? The answer has a lot to do with height. If a NT is going to engage and hold off two full sized NFL linemen he has to have leverage. You do that by being as low as possible. That is why many of the top NTs aren’t over 6-2. The Steelers’ Casey Hampton is widely considered the top NT in the NFL and he is listed at 6-1 and 325 pounds. You might be wondering if Hampton’s back up is a huge guy that they can rotate in. Nope, their #2 NT is 6-2, 305 pound Chris Hoke. I realize that most fans are infatuated with the idea of this huge beast of a man anchoring the middle of their defensive line, but when you look at the top 3-4 run defenses and their NTs you can see that not only is this not needed, it may not even be ideal.
Concern Number 3 – Franklin is too old
Franklin is 30 years old and will turn 31 by the start of the season. NFL players typically are in their prime in their mid to late 20’s and once they hit 30 they start to decline, right? Since NTs are bigger players that pound it out every down in the trenches they probably wear out even faster, right? I’m sure if we look at the NTs that lead those top 3-4 rush defenses we’ll find that they are in that prime age range, right? Kelly Gregg is 34 and Casey Hampton is 33. What can we take from that? Well if a player is in good shape and uses good technique (more on that later) he can excel at the NT position into his mid-thirties. Can anyone really say they wouldn’t have wanted Hampton as our NT these last couple seasons while he was 31 and 32? I would also point out that Franklin’s size (or lack thereof) will help him to stay productive longer. As opposed to if he was 350+ pounds and he might wear/tire out sooner.
Concern Number 4 – Franklin isn’t good enough and/or doesn’t record enough tackles
I’m not going into a full lecture here, but if you are basing your opinion of Franklin based on the fact that he isn’t a household name or that you looked up his profile on NFL.com and didn’t think his tackle totals were high enough, you’re missing the boat. Plain and simple, a NT’s job is to eat up blockers. Would it be great if they could power through two NFL linemen and take down the ball carrier himself? Sure it would. Now just tell me where exactly you see the Chiefs getting a player like that? Anyone? …… Anyone? …… Bueller? That’s what I thought. Franklin has been the 49ers’ starting NT for four seasons. Over that span he’s averaged 36.75 tackles/season. Pathetic right? I mean Casey Hampton has to have racked up twice that amount, right? Over that same time span Hampton has averaged 29.5 tackles/season. So if you are all about the tackle totals then you can rest easy knowing that Franklin recorded more tackles then one of the best NTs in the league.
If you’re really a stat head, like me, you can check out this piece I did on looking at NTs and how they might affect the play of the other players on defense. The idea was that if a good NT eats up blockers then you should see a higher percentage of the team’s tackles made by the ILBs since they would be free to move to the ball. I also predicted that you should see a lower percentage of safety tackles on those teams since not as many ball carriers should break into the secondary. Now obviously this isn’t an exact reflection since some of those tackles occur on passing plays, outside runs, special teams, etc. but it should give at least an idea of what NTs are freeing up their LBs. Of the teams I looked at the Steelers had the highest % of ILB tackles (22.4%). This supports the theory that Hampton is one of the better NTs and does a great job of eating up blockers so his teammates can make plays (and he does that at 6-1, 325 and 33 years old remember). The second highest % of ILB totals was Franklin’s 49ers (21.9%). The 49ers also had the lowest % of safety tackles (12.1%) ahead of both Pittsburgh and Baltimore who were tied at 14.8%. Now obviously those numbers are a product of the players those teams have at LB and S, but the fact remains that with Aubrayo Franklin playing NT the 49ers were able to stop most of the plays before they got to the secondary.
If you want first hand testimony to what Franklin means to his defensive teammates don’t take it from me, but from them.
“Anyone who doesn’t realize that he’s in the top three nose tackles in the NFL doesn’t know (expletive) about football,” said teammate Jeff Ulbrich, whose season was ended by a concussion. “Patrick’s not Patrick without him. Takeo’s not Takeo without him.”
In a 3-4 defense, “it all starts with the nose,” defensive end Justin Smith said. “I hope the organization does whatever they can to keep him, but he’s going to be in high demand. He’s one of the main reasons we were able to climb so high in all those (statistical) categories. If you don’t have that nose, there’s all sorts of running lanes, and linebackers aren’t making all the plays they’re making. A nose guard is a huge part of this.”
Also from FitzGerald:
“Oh man, I pray to God they keep Aubrayo,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “The coaches know where my heart is. I’d say he’s the best nose (tackle) in the game. Nobody plays with better technique. Nobody knows the game better than he knows it.” Willis led the league in tackles and gives Franklin a lot of the credit. “He keeps my head from getting busted on every play,” Willis said. “I make a lot of plays because of those three guys up front, especially Aubrayo. He holds double-teams and allows me to make a play.”
The guy is good at what he does. Period. It really isn’t even worth arguing.
Concern Number 5 – Franklin only plays well in contract years
Some have voiced concern that Franklin was only playing hard to earn a big payday and will not be the same player once his payday comes (I’m looking at you Andrew). I don’t think that’s fair. He started his career in Baltimore where he played 4 years as a reserve player. His next to last season in Baltimore he played in 15 games with one start and had 20 tackles and one sack. Then in his contract year he played in 14 games (no starts) and had 17 tackles and no sacks. Then he signed a three year deal with SF. He went there because his former DC Mike Nolan wanted him to come be his starting NT. In the second year of that deal he played in 16 games (15 starts) and had 46 tackles and one sack. Then in his first contract year with SF he played and started all 16 games with 36 tackles and 2 sacks. They franchised him last season and in his second contract season with SF he again played and started all 16 games and had 39 tackles and no sacks. Obviously, I’ve already stated that tackles aren’t the best indicator of NT success, but in all of those seasons SF’s LBs, particularly Willis excelled. I just don’t see were this claim is coming from. The only thing I can figure is that it’s only been the last couple seasons where Franklin has been talked about with the better NTs and that has been during the same time that he was ending his contract with SF. To me a guy coming into his prime in his second and third year as a starter sounds about right to me. Also, the fact that Willis credits his success to his excellent technique and knowledge of the game makes me think this isn’t a player that just went out and tried hard for a year or two. He sounds like a student of the game to me. If anyone has any evidence to the contrary I’d love to hear it.
Concern Number 6 – There are better FA options out there
The other best FA options available at DT are probably Barry Cofield of the Giants and Brandon Mebane from the Seahawks. However, even though their age and stats my look more appealing then Franklin I don’t believe they are suited for the NT position. Both of these players are seen more as penetrating 4-3 DTs as opposed to lane clogging run stuffers. If we wanted that kind of a player at NT we would just slide Glenn Dorsey over to NT. In terms of players with NT experience there just isn’t much available. Both Gabe Watson and Alan Branch from Arizona are available, but I’m not sure they’d be an upgrade over Edwards and they have nowhere near the reputation as Franklin.
Concern Number 7 – The Chiefs would be better off going with Edwards/Smith/Powe
For this one I’ll quote our very own staff writer and DVOA stat expert Double D while discussing the Chiefs NT situation:
“In my opinion, there are really only a couple of meaningful stats to look at here which are frequency and success of opposing offenses at attacking the A gaps. The 2010 league average on frequency is 50%. However, opposing offenses went to the Chiefs A gaps 63% of the time. In terms of success at stuffing the A gaps, Chiefs ranked a lowly 27th according to Football Outsiders.”
That means that teams ran at our NT 13% more then they usually do. Why, because we weren’t good at stopping them. That 27th ranking means that we had the 27th worst YPC allowed on runs between the Guards and Center. Ron Edwards just wasn’t getting the job done. Jerrell Powe may end up being a great NT, but the Chiefs would be foolish to put all their hopes on a 6th round draft pick who has had conditioning problems in the past and hasn’t had any OTAs to get him ready. Finally, I love Shaun Smith and I hope the Chiefs resign him, but if he was a clear upgrade over Edwards at NT then the Chiefs would have played him there more once Tyson Jackson was healthy and playing. If the Chiefs want better play at the NT position this season they need to look elsewhere.
So there you have it. My Aubrayo Franklin obsession released for all to see. I’ve made my case and if you’re still not convinced I’d love to hear your counter argument. Also, if any of you happen to be close personal friends with Scott Pioli, could you please forward this on to him. I’m sure he’d love to take some advice from a local blogger. So here’s to the lockout hopefully ending this week and to the Chiefs hopefully heeding my advice shortly thereafter.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!