James Franklin Talks NFL Draft, Handling Coronavirus On Mike Tirico’s ‘Lunch Talk Live’

Penn State football head coach James Franklin joined sportscaster Mike Tirico on NBC Sports Tuesday afternoon to discuss Penn State’s draft class and the fate of college football amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The show opened up with former NFL quarterback Chris Simms sharing his opinion on this year’s wide receiver draft class, placing KJ Hamler as the fourth-best wideout in the draft. Simms put him behind CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, and Henry Ruggs III, slightly higher than where he’d usually rank.

Franklin spoke highly of Hamler as well, confirming Simms’ high assessment as true, both on and off the field.

“He’s awesome in meetings, in the locker room, he’s a culture drive,” Franklin said of his go-to wideout. “And then on the football field, he can change the game in a minute on offense or special teams.”

Franklin also spoke to this year’s unusual build-up to the draft due to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that since Penn State’s pro day was on the later side, some of the issues were “magnified” for his players.

“Our guys didn’t get to have pro day. KJ didn’t run at the combine, I think he would’ve ran a low 4.3 [seconds], if not better than that, which would have maybe impacted how people are talking about him right now,” Franklin said. “Everybody is dealing with it to a degree.”

Although Hamler’s electric play-style on the offensive side of the ball stole the hearts of many fans and scouts alike, the Nittany Lions’ highest pick will likely be Yetur Gross-Matos.

“With Yetur, his best football is ahead of him,” Franklin said of the defensive end. “I still think he’s a young football player…I think he’s got a very bright future.”

Although draft night is an exciting time for both fans of college football and the NFL, it can be also be quite an emotional evening for head coaches in college. Franklin said it’s “special” to see Nittany Lions work hard and blossom into NFL-caliber players during their years at Penn State.

“For me, you kind of feel like a father in some ways,” Franklin said. “I remember sitting in the green room with Saquon [Barkley] in New York when he gets drafted number two overall, and the whole journey flashes before your eyes.”

Although the draft is at the forefront of most football fans’ minds right now, Tirico didn’t let Franklin get away without talking about the elephant in the room: the coronavirus. Franklin joked about staying away from politics as a football coach but said the team would ideally want six weeks to prepare for the season. However, he thinks the team could get it done in less if need-be.

“Everybody would like six weeks, but let’s be honest. 20 years ago, the guys didn’t stay up in the summer,” Franklin said. “They would show up on a college campus, you would have campus for three-four weeks, then you’d go play the season. I think if we had to, we could get it done in four weeks.”

But for how frustrating this time away from the team has been for Franklin, he thinks there’s a silver lining in a world where virtual meetings and online classes are the new normal.

“If you’re approaching these things the right way, you’re gonna grow from it, you’re gonna evolve,” Franklin said. “The technology has forced a lot of our coaches and a lot of our people to embrace technology. It’s made me think about even when we’re going on vacation and things like that, we don’t have to lose that connection with our players.”

Franklin also said he’s enjoyed spending more time with his family at home but joked that his kids might be getting a little tired of him being around the house.

Finally, Tirico asked Franklin if he was able to get takeout from the Creamery with warm weather right around the corner.

“No, Pennsylvania is on lockdown. There’s not a whole lot of takeout of anything,” Franklin said lightheartedly. “Again, not getting into politics, but I just wish we’d lock the whole country down because the sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected].

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