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Zaire Franklin shines bright with third-highest single-game tackle performance in Colts history

The incredible journey of Zaire Franklin: From a 7th-round draft pick to recording one of the top single-game total tackle performances in Colts franchise history.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

What Indianapolis Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin achieved in the 2023 season-opener is no small feat. With 18 total tackles, Franklin accumulated the third-highest single-game total in Colts history. The only two players with more are Pat Angerer, 21 in 2011, and Shaquille Leonard, 19 in 2018.

Of course, the tackles don’t even include the heads-up forced fumble that led to a defensive scoop and score for DeForest Buckner.

This single-game performance builds upon an impressive 2022, Franklin’s first as a defensive starter. Last season, he set the Colts’ single-season tackles record with 166 - three more than the record set by Shaquille Leonard in 2018.

What’s wild is looking back at his journey to the NFL, where he joined the team as a seventh-round pick, the third linebacker the Colts selected (this is the same year Leonard was selected in the second round). He was the last pick for the Colts and 14 picks after linebacker Matthew Adams. He has parlayed that opportunity into a role as a special teams ace and then onto a prominent role on defense.

Players drafted in the seventh round struggle to stay in the league, some never make it to a regular-season roster.

Instead, Franklin was named a team captain in 2020, his third NFL season, for his contributions on special teams. He repeated as special teams captain in 2021 but earned more defensive snaps. He was named a defensive captain and was recognized as a Pro Bowl alternate last year.

Franklin’s ascension is a story of player development and an incredible work ethic. If his performance in the 2023 season-opener is any indication, we are witnessing the emergence of a player who can stay in the Pro Bowl discussions.

Imagine a Colts defense that features a healthy Shaquille Leonard, a multi-time All-Pro, and a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Franklin lining up next to him. With everything else that is going on, that is something to be excited about in Indianapolis.