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'Tough, Instinctive' Zaire Franklin Has Intriguing Tools At Linebacker For Colts

Deemed “uncuttable” by his college coach, rookie linebacker Zaire Franklin hopes for a breakthrough performance in training camp and the preseason at a wide-open position group for the Indianapolis Colts.


INDIANAPOLIS — Dino Babers doesn't hide his feelings about Zaire Franklin.

In fact, the Syracuse head football coach views his former linebacker like the son he never had.

"It's like you're dealing with someone who's 40 years old and he's only 20 something," Babers said recently in an interview with 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich. "You meet him and you go, 'God dang it, which daughter can he marry?'"

For a father of four daughters like Babers, that's pretty serious praise. But even beyond Franklin's maturity and overall demeanor, it's his skills on the football field that have Babers convinced that the Colts got an absolute steal by picking the linebacker in the seventh round of this year's NFL Draft.

"The guy is absolutely solid as a rock and there is no way in hell he's getting cut," Babers told Dakich. "If there's odds in Vegas — let me find out what the odds are — you can't cut the kid. He's uncuttable."

And after getting some solid work during the Colts' offseason practices — even at times being seen working in with the theoretical "first-team" defense — Franklin hopes to prove his college coach right with a solid performance in training camp and the preseason.

Franklin — who stands at 6-foot and weighs 238 pounds — had a decorated career for the Orangemen, where he became just the second three-time captain in school history, and the first in 121 years.

A two-time All-ACC selection at middle linebacker, Franklin played in 48 total games, starting the last 39, at middle linebacker, and racked up 311 total tackles (31.5 for a loss, finishing tied for ninth in program history), 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, 10 passes defensed and two interceptions.

Although he did not get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, Franklin put on a show at his Pro Day at Syracuse, running the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, jumping 38 inches high and putting up 30 reps on the bench press. Those numbers would have placed him within the top six of those who did participate in the Combine, according to Syracuse.

Colts area scout Mike Derice said Franklin simply "just has the right make-up" as it pertains to the type of player, and person, the team has been looking to bring in under second-year general manager Chris Ballard.

"You know, they talk about grit: this guy has it from a standpoint of he was raised by mom and grandma, and they both passed away. So he was self-sufficient growing up," Derice said. "And those are traits that I liked. He's been productive as a linebacker. He's tough, instinctive. He just has the right make-up."

Watching the film, Derice said Franklin "can read it and attack aggressively downhill."

What really impressed Derice was the fact Franklin last season even chased down fellow Colts draft pick Nyheim Hines — the fastest running back in the entire 2018 NFL Draft class — from behind to make a play against North Carolina State.

"Hines broke out on a long run, and he flipped his hips, turned and caught Hines from behind," Derice said. "And then the kid (Franklin) ended up running a 4.55 (-second 40-yard dash) at the pro day, and it made sense, you know?

With all three linebacker spots wide open heading into training camp, Franklin could very well get a prime opportunity to see how those skills translate into the professional game.

"(I'm a) hard worker, physical. You know, I like to play with a lot of fun, a lot of energy," Franklin told's Caroline Cann shortly after his selection in the draft. "I've been playing MIKE basically my whole life — I've been running defenses, making calls, aligning, getting everybody right, basically my whole life. It's what I do. And just somebody who's really in love with it. I'll be in the community, too. I can't wait to get out there."

2018 NFL Draft - 7th Round 235th Overall - ZAIRE FRANKLIN

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