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Zaire Franklin strives to be top linebacker in NFL after historic 2023 season

For the second-straight season, Franklin set a new franchise record in tackles with 179. He was voted a Pro Bowl alternate this season.

Zaire Greatness

Following a season where he set a new franchise record in tackles, it would be easy to assume that linebacker Zaire Franklin was happy with the way 2023 played out for him and the Colts. However, when Franklin spoke with the media last Monday, it became abundantly clear that this season was not as successful as he would have hoped.

"To be honest, I didn't hit many of my goals that I set for myself and that was tough," Franklin said. "I made some winning plays, was able to help the team win, but to be honest goal number one was to make the playoffs – start all the games. Some of those things wasn't necessarily in my control. There's some things I need to go to the drawing board myself, maybe with a couple of Mai Tais on the beach or something. But yeah, I feel like – obviously, it was a great year. I'm still hurting to be honest with you, so I'm not feeling too good about everything right now. After I go back, sit back and be able to reflect and look at everything how I need to look at it, I'll be able to have a better understanding of everything.

"But to be honest, I really feel like there's another step that I need to take. There's another level that I can tap into. Like I said last year, my goal honestly wasn't the franchise, it was the NFL record, to be honest with you. And I didn't reach that. So, for me it's just getting back to that drawing board, continuing to push myself to be the best player, teammate, friend, leader that I can possibly be and be better for the team next year."

Despite falling short of 214 tackles, an NFL record set by linebacker Hardy Nickerson in 1993, Franklin had an impressive year. In 16 games this season, Franklin had a career-high 179 tackles along with three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six pass deflections and two forced fumbles.

"He's a dog," head coach Shane Steichen said. "He shows up every single day. He works his tail off. He prepares the right way. He leads in the locker room the right way and he plays with great intensity, great effort and energy. Obviously, (he) studies tape. You can see it. He's in the right spots making tackles over and over and over again every week. Shoot, it's been a pleasure to have him on this football team, and being around him for my first season with him."

Franklin's efforts this season didn't go unnoticed either. For the second time in his career, Franklin was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. In the event that neither Baltimore Ravens inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith are unavailable to play, Franklin could take one of their places in Orlando.

Table inside Article
Player Name Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Pass Deflections
Zaire Franklin 179 3 1.5 6
Patrick Queen 133 9 3.5 6
Roquan Smith 158 5 1.5 8

Coming into the league as a seventh round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Franklin had to claw his way onto the roster. While he initially made his bones on special teams, Franklin said he realized early that the only way to progress in the NFL is by constantly striving to get better.

"It's funny, me and [EJ] Speed were having a conversation one time and I was explaining to him that no matter what level of success you achieve, you always fighting for the next thing," Franklin said. "That's just the fight of life, that's the fight of the career path that we're in. At one point, you were fighting to make the team. Then after that, you were fighting to get all four phases. Now you in on all four phases, now I want to be the best special teamer in the league. Now I'm the best special teamer in the league, now I need to play defense. Now I'm playing on first and second down, now I need to be an every down linebacker. Now I'm an every down linebacker, now I need to be the best, I need to be a game-changer, I need to be All-Pro, I need to be a Pro Bowler – you're always fighting for something."

So, this offseason, Franklin's mission is to find ways to create more explosive plays for the defense. By doing that, Franklin said that will give him the edge over the other linebackers in the league.

"I think for me, now that I have cemented myself as one of the best, why not try to be number one," Franklin said. "Why not try to change games? Why not try to be a guy that just wreaks havoc every time and just kind of have your way? It's a lot of film that I got to get to, it's a lot of self-reflection that I gotta get to, but just understand that the hunger and the fight is definitely there, for sure."

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