Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis (#96) looks on after making a defensive play against North Carolina State on Oct. 20, 2012. (Photo Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)
Former Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman A.J. Francis may not have heard his name called on Day 3 of the NFL Draft but it was certainly a day that he will remember for the rest of his life. Shortly after the draft ended on Saturday afternoon, Francis revealed that he had signed with the Miami Dolphins. If you haven’t seen the video yet, Francis’ birthday also happened to be on that same day and he made it all the more special as he proposed to his girlfriend in front of a room of people. Many people, including myself, assumed that is was pretty likely that the former Terp defensive lineman wouldn’t hear his named called during the draft. However, Francis could have a very solid future playing for the Dolphins.
Francis was a three-star recruit out of Gonzaga and did have interest from a host of ACC schools including Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest but ultimately decided to stay home and attend Maryland. The Severn, Md. native tallied 43 total tackles during the 2012 season, including nine tackles-for-loss. Francis was also tied for second on the team in sacks (4) and lead the Terps in fumble recoveries with three.
Despite a season in which the Terps struggled down the stretch, Francis enjoyed a very successful campaign. One of his best games came on the road when the Terps knocked off the Temple Owls despite getting off to a slow start. Francis recorded an assisted sacks and recovered a fumble against the Owls. The Gonzaga grad also blocked a Temple field goal attempt with about eight minutes left to help secure a Maryland victory. He continued his strong play the very next week (9/15) against Randy Edsall’s former team in Connecticut as he recorded six tackles against the Huskies. Arugably Francis’ best game as a Terp came against Georgia Tech (11/3) when he recorded a career-high five solo tackles and blocked an extra point.
Miami didn’t have a great season in 2012 as they finished with a 7-9 record, but that wasn’t all that bad considering that a rookie in Ryan Tannehill started all 16 games. The Dolphins are a young team and will be under former Green Bay Packers assistant coach Joe Phibin for the second season. They have added a vast amount of talent in the offseason including wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Brent Grimes, and tight end Dustin Keller. They also drafted Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan which serves as another strong piece in what should be much improved front seven.
Francis may not have been drafted but it’s not far-fetched in the slightest to think that the former Terp could see considerable playing time in 2013. As the Miami depth chart stands right now, their defensive line starters are Jared Odrick, former Terp defensive tackle Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, and Cameron Wake. Outside of a pass rusher in Wake and Starks, Francis could have a chance to break into the defensive rotation. The main strength for Francis is that he can line up at defensive end or tackle. Defensive tackle would be an ideal spot for him because of his ability to clog up the middle and be a primary run-stuffer. Francis is also able to get penetration into the backfield and has shown in his college career that he can force a few turnovers.
It’s likely that Francis won’t start for the Dolphins this year but he’ll have the opportunity to learn under successful linemen like Wake and Starks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Terp connection form with Starks possibly taking Francis under his wing. That type of treatment would serve Francis well as he seems eager to learn and has a great head on his shoulders. If Francis has a strong work ethic and keeps causing problems for opposing defenses, he could have a very productive NFL career.
Francis leaves a Maryland program that was quite a bit different than when he arrived. After going through a coaching change, Francis stayed the course and had a very productive final two years in College Park. His presence on the Terp defensive line will be severely missed as will his great personality. He worked hard during his career at Maryland and hope to see him wreaking havoc on Sundays for years to come.