For a true freshman to make a significant positive impact, there’s three necessary ingredients: the willingness of the coaches to play young guys, opportunity at the position, and a special combination of mental and physical gifting in the freshman.
Georgia Tech’s defensive coaches play young guys; three true freshmen burned their redshirts last year on defense, and another four played extensively before shutting down to preserve the redshirt. That shows willingness.
Junior Quez Jackson and redshirt freshman Cornelius Evans are the only returners at outside linebacker. Charlie Thomas emerged last year as a playmaker, leading the linebackers with 13.5 havoc plays, but he moved over to the secondary in the spring. We mentioned earlier that havoc rate has been a particular weakness for the Georgia Tech defense in recent years. Havoc rate is the percentage of plays on which the defense records a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, a pass break-up, or an interception. GT ranked #119 (out of 130) in havoc rate in 2018 and creeped up to #101 in 2019. To be sure, some of this weakness is connected to the injuries, losses, and overall struggles on the defensive line, but the linebackers did not shore up the weakness. That creates opportunity.
Khatavian Franks has that special combination of mental and physical gifting to be the true freshman who makes significant positive impact. The 6-3, 205 pound outside linebacker was rated as a 3 star on Rivals, a 4 Star on 247, and a 3 star in the 247 Composite. Playing alongside his friend and fellow GT freshman Tyson Meiquez, Franks’ senior high school film shows a gifted playmaker and a talented disrupter. Creekside employed countless stunts where Franks and Meiguez twist around one another, blitz across each other’s gaps, and occupy blockers to free one another up. The result: lots of havoc. Franks’ senior film is littered with interceptions, tackles for loss, broken up passes, and forced fumbles.
He uses his length extremely well to get his hands on passes and track down the ballcarrier. The defensive scheme at Creekside (and the reliable play of Meiguez) freed Franks up to roam and make plays. He made great use of his freedom in defending the pass and the run. He shows great vision and hip flexibility when dropping into coverage, as he confuses quarterbacks and jumps passing lanes. But what most impressed me is how he plays downhill, fast. Franks comes out of his stance like a track star when he blitzes. Whether coming off the edge or through an A gap, his film shows countless instances of him getting to the quarterback untouched. During his senior season, he recorded a jaw dropping combination of 18 sacks and five interceptions.
As the Georgia Tech defensive coaches try to create more havoc plays, Franks has to be making them drool in anticipation. I expect him to take advantage of the willingness and opportunity before him to make significant contributions on the defensive side of the ball as a true freshman. Early in the season, I picture him getting pass rushing reps in the speedy Cheetah pass rushing package that Thacker showed several times last year. Quez Jackson likely starts at outside linebacker to open the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Khatavian Franks trotting out there on the opening play of the game by the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He’s a newbie to watch and a player to enjoy for the next four years.