Neck injury ends RB Franklin’s career after just one year

Johnathan Franklin's career as a running back with the Green Bay Packers is over due to a neck injury sustained last year.

Kelley L Cox/Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Johnathan Franklin’s football career is over. Just one year after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round, the 24-year-old running back found out that his neck injury is too severe to continue playing.

"Unfortunately this week, I have been ruled out of returning for the 2014/15 season and returning to play in the NFL," Franklin posted on his Twitter account.

Minutes before Franklin’s tweet, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made the announcement from the team’s perspective.

"I have some unfortunate news about Johnathan Franklin," McCarthy said. "All the information has come in, we’ve had a chance to sit down and talk to Johnathan the last couple days; he will not be back with us.

"I can’t say enough about him as a person. He’s as classy of a young man that’s walked through these doors. Anybody that’s had a chance to get to know him on and off the field, he’s a class act. You’ll always remember his smile and energy — so positive, his outlook. Just the way he handled this whole process of going through all the different tests and so forth."

Green Bay will make the roster move official Friday.

Franklin was injured while returning the opening kickoff at Lambeau Field in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings. It was only the fourth time all season that Franklin had returned a kickoff.

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No one associated with the Packers knows Franklin as well as defensive lineman Datone Jones. The two of them are both from Los Angeles, both attended UCLA and were both drafted by Green Bay in 2013.

"I’ve known Johnathan since we were in high school, since we were in the 10th grade," Jones said in the locker room Thursday. "We actually committed to UCLA on the same exact day at the same time. To see him work so hard to actually make his dream come true and make it to the NFL, man, it’s tough to see it end this way, because I knew how hard he worked.

"He’s a special guy. He was a special guy at UCLA, and not only on the field but off the field; he was very involved off the field. One thing I do know: he has a calling outside of football to lift people and bring people’s spirits up.

"Hopefully he can pursue his dream to become the mayor of L.A."

Becoming mayor of Los Angeles is something that Franklin spoke about at length before entering the NFL Draft.

Franklin told Jones — and many of his other Packers teammates — about the news Wednesday.

"He’s not just a football player to me, man; he’s a brother," Jones said. "We shared a special bond at UCLA. It was a special brotherhood. When I found out the news, for me, I didn’t really care about the injury anymore because I knew he was OK in that area; but I wanted to see where his mind was at.

"That’s why I wanted to be there for him, just to make sure he was doing great. At that time, I had to become a brother to him and make sure that he was doing OK mentally. His spirits were up, he felt like God had opportunity for him.

"He’s been a great brother to me for the last 7-8 years."

Franklin was the second of two running backs drafted by Green Bay in 2013. The other was Eddie Lacy, a second-round pick who won the starting job in training camp and finished the season as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now, as Lacy’s career is blossoming, he’s having to watch as Franklin’s ends.

"We were definitely sad," Lacy said. "He shot everybody in the running back group a text and it just makes you cherish the moments that you get to play. We came in together, we got to know each other real good and we spent a lot of time together.

"Just like that, as fast as you get it, it can be taken away. But from talking to him and still being around him, he has a great personality. He’s going to be down a little bit, but that’s just any player."

Lacy and Franklin were roommates during training camp last year, too.

"It definitely makes you think, especially at our position because we’re getting hit from a bunch of different angles by a bunch of big guys," Lacy said. "So you just have to continue to pray and keep your faith, but you never know when your last play is going to be."

In Franklin’s one NFL season, he had 19 rushing attempts for 107 yards and one touchdown. He also had four receptions for 30 yards.

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