Franks served purpose with Packers

Though Bubba Franks' receiving skills have diminished in recent seasons, Packers fans should remember how the tight end came through earlier in his career when the Green Bay Packers needed him most, says PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay.

This past week the Green Bay Packers released veteran tight end Bubba Franks, ending the former first-round draft pick's career in Green Bay after eight seasons.

Most remember Franks as a player who lost his skills and hands over the last few seasons, instead of the player who filled a void for the offense when it was needed most. This season, Franks lost his starting spot to one-time street free agent Donald Lee, who in time has displayed playmaking ability and more reliability.

However, most forget how needed Franks was during the 2000 offseason, when Mark Chmura's career came to an end. Chmura's exit left the Packers without a starting-caliber tight end, so the Packers selected Franks with the 14th pick in the first round.

Common belief is you don't pick tight ends in the first round, unless they have the athleticism of a Vernon Davis or Kellen Winslow Jr. Nonetheless, the Packers felt they had no choice to pick Franks, who in 2000 was the clear-cut top tight end in the draft.

The other notable tight ends, if that can be said, who were picked in the top three rounds of 2000 were Anthony Becht (27th to the Jets) and Erron Kinney (68th to the Titans). Neither was more productive than Franks, who finished his Packers career with 256 catches (16th on the Packers' all-time receptions list) and 2,300 yards.

Becht has 172 catches in his career, while Kinney has 178.

Despite Franks outplaying Becht and Kinney, he came under fire in Green Bay for not being able to run after the catch, for shaky hands at times, and someone who in the last couple seasons seem to get slower than slower.

Franks' best season was 2002, when he set career highs with 54 catches and 442 yards, while scoring seven touchdowns. He became a good red-zone weapon for Brett Favre. This was the second of three straight Pro Bowl seasons.

In his third season, he was coming into his own, but as the Packers quickly learned, he didn't stay there long.

From 2005-07, he caught 68 passes combined as he missed 14 games with injuries. This past season, when Franks played eight games, he caught 18 passes for 132 yards. He was relegated to a blocker, and judging by his play, his time in the green and gold was fading away.

While Franks was on the decline, Lee is on the upswing. This past season, he caught 48 passes for 575 yards. Franks only topped 48 catches once and never reached 500 yards.

Franks' downfall was once he caught the ball he was done. He lacked speed and the agility to make tacklers miss. Not all tight ends are good after the catch, but Franks seemed less than average in this area.

His lack of playmaking ability was obvious as the tight end has changed in the NFL. Just look at what Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten have accomplished.

For all his shortcomings, however, Franks has to be considered a solid player in his career with Green Bay and a possible Packers Hall of Famer. Only Paul Coffman has more catches in team history at tight end (322).

Furthermore, he wasn't a troublemaker, and during his prime not only did he not miss games, he wouldn't miss practices. But like all players, time eventually catches up with you.

For Franks, this was in 2005, when he suddenly looked like nothing more than a backup. Still, when you look back at his career, Franks was a useful player for the Packers. In a four-year stretch he caught 28 touchdown passes and was a key weapon for Favre.

That's history now, though, and so is Franks.

Doug Ritchay is a regular contribtor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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