Packing the Stats: The Rise and Fall of Jermichael Finley

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Packing the StatsFor Green Bay Packers fans, there has been no more controversial player during the past few years than tight end Jermichael Finley. His boisterous personality and recent penchant for dropped passes have clashed significantly with the perception of his physical talents and work ethic. And while we like to believe that on-field performance trumps off-field attitude, there’s no bigger catalyst for the disgruntled fan than when both start to head south.

I’m not going to look at the off-field issues, because we could talk about that for hours. What I want to focus on, instead, is the performance trajectory of Finley since he was taken in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. (Actually, we’ll omit his rookie season, since Finley only saw 12 targets the whole year.) Please note that all stats have been acquired from ProFootballFocus.com.

Let’s start with some basic statistics from the past four years:

Year GP TA Rec. % Ct Yds Yds / Rec. YAC YAC / Rec. LG TD FD
2009 14 78 61 78.2 845 13.9 377 6.2 62 5 29
2010 5 25 21 84 301 14.3 106 5 34 1 12
2011 17 99 59 59.6 804 13.6 251 4.3 41 8 44
2012 6 36 24 66.7 210 8.8 74 3.1 31 1 12

What we first have to account for is the games played by Finley each season. 2011 was the only year where he played in every game, and as we all know, his time on the field in 2010 was cut short due to a knee injury (torn meniscus) in Week 5. That said, looking at straight-up totals won’t tell us much; instead, we need to focus more on percentages and averages that give us a better indication of per-play production.

My first impression of Finley’s basic production is that 2010 could have been his best year had it not been cut short. His catch percentage and yards per receptions were both his highest in four seasons, and his yards after catch per reception were the second highest. It’s a smaller sample size, so we have to take some things with a grain of salt, but there’s enough to indicate peak performance.

As for offensive production, in contrast to performance, 2011 might rank as his better season. He scored eighth touchdowns (third most in the league that year), but more importantly, he was responsible for 44 first down catches. In more significant terms, 74.6% of his catches were for first downs. Contrast that with 47.5% in 2009, 57.1% in 2010, and 50.0% in 2012.

Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper with some more advanced statistics. The following is a “Signature Stat” from Pro Football Focus called “yards per route run.” It looks at production from a standpoint of how many routes were run by the receiver in conjunction with their total yardage. For the purposes of further conversation and curiosity, I’ve also included the statistics of other Packers receivers from the past four seasons:

# Name Year Targets Rec. Yards Snaps in Route YPRR
1 Jordy Nelson 2011 93 1263 424 2.98
2 Jermichael Finley 2010 25 301 114 2.64
3  Randall Cobb 2012 35 346 139 2.49
4  Jermichael Finley 2009 70 676 279 2.42
5  Jordy Nelson 2009 28 320 145 2.21
6  Greg Jennings 2010 120 1265 585 2.16
7  Randall Cobb 2011 31 375 174 2.16
8  Greg Jennings 2011 96 949 458 2.07
9  Greg Jennings 2009 106 1113 550 2.02
10  James Jones 2011 54 635 318 2
11  Jordy Nelson 2010 61 582 316 1.84
12  Donald Driver 2009 107 1048 574 1.83
13  James Jones 2010 85 692 413 1.68
14  Jordy Nelson 2012 47 410 253 1.62
15 Jermichael Finley 2011 91 767 501 1.53
16  Donald Driver 2011 54 445 361 1.23
17 Jermichael Finley 2012 36 210 175 1.2
18  Donald Driver 2010 82 565 483 1.17
19  James Jones 2012 35 270 237 1.14
20  James Jones 2009 56 435 414 1.05
21  Greg Jennings 2012 21 78 102 0.76

Right away we see a clear demarcation between the two halves of Finley’s career. In 2009 and 2010, he was much more productive on a per route basis than most other receivers in the past four years. In fact, only Jordy Nelson (2011) and Randall Cobb (2012) have put up a better average for single-season performances.

The 2011 and 2012 seasons, however, are a much different story. Here we see Finley falling into the bottom of the list. And it’s not so much the comparison to other receivers, but his 2012 average is currently less than half of what it was in 2009 and 2010.

We must be careful, though. One caveat to this statistic is that it really is affected by the rest of the offense. When you have multiple routes being run on a given play (up to five), the ball can only be distributed in so many ways. Therefore, when other players start becoming bigger parts of the offense (e.g., Randall Cobb), another player’s decline might not necessarily be reflective of personal performance.

Granted, we’ve seen Mike McCarthy try to build his game plans around Jermichael Finley, so that counter point might not matter all that much.

Finally, let’s look at the biggest killer of Finley’s reputation over the past two years: dropped passes. This is by far the single most frustrating part of Finley’s play, and it’s really gone to the point of becoming a double-standard for how Packers fans treat receivers as a whole. You’ll see what I mean when you check out the following statistics:

# Name Year Targets Receptions Drops Catchable Drop Rate
1  Greg Jennings 2012 21 12 0 12 0
2 Jermichael Finley 2010 25 21 0 21 0
3  Jordy Nelson 2011 93 68 2 70 2.86
4  James Jones 2012 35 23 1 24 4.17
5  Greg Jennings 2009 106 68 4 72 5.56
6  Greg Jennings 2011 96 67 4 71 5.63
7 Jermichael Finley 2009 70 55 4 59 6.78
8  Greg Jennings 2010 120 76 7 83 8.43
9  Donald Driver 2009 107 69 8 77 10.39
10  Donald Driver 2010 82 51 6 57 10.53
11  James Jones 2010 85 50 6 56 10.71
12  Jordy Nelson 2009 28 22 3 25 12
13  Randall Cobb 2012 35 29 4 33 12.12
14  Jordy Nelson 2010 61 45 7 52 13.46
15  James Jones 2011 54 38 6 44 13.64
16  Randall Cobb 2011 31 25 4 29 13.79
17  Jordy Nelson 2012 47 32 6 38 15.79
18  Donald Driver 2011 54 37 8 45 17.7
19 Jermichael Finley 2011 91 55 12 67 17.91
20 Jermichael Finley 2012 36 24 6 30 20
21  James Jones 2009 56 31 8 39 20.51

The bottom three seasonal performances should not be surprising, though for a moment I want you to take a look at the year next to James Jones’ name at the bottom. It’s not his 2010 season, which most people use as the basis for their frustration with him. (That’s the year he lost the fumble against the Chicago Bears in Week 3.) But I digress.

Packers fans clearly have a bone to pick with Finley for dropped passes during the past two seasons. His drop rates have been just about the worst among all receivers in four years. In regard to my double-standard comment above, though, note that Donald Driver’s drop rate last year was pretty significant, and Jordy Nelson currently has six drops this season (the same as Finley, but with more total receptions and targets overall).

Contrast that with his drop rate from 2009 and 2010, and we still have a very clear delineation between the two halves of his career. In fact, Finley boasted zero drops during his brief time on the field in 2010. It’s safe to say that he probably wouldn’t have gone the whole season without a drop, but he was clearly demonstrating better hands than the past two years.

So what’s changed? We’ve clearly seen the reasons why people were so fond of Jermichael Finley at the onset of his career. He was performing at a high rate in almost every statistical category. His drops were very limited, and he was simply a more productive part of the offense.

Fast-forward to the present, and it’s also quite obvious to see why people are suddenly sick of him. His performances have not really come close to what they once were, and it only seems to be getting worse.

If I had to place my finger on the turning point, it would be his knee injury in 2010 and his contract year in 2011. I can’t really say for certain just by looking at the numbers and not the film, but they make good arguments for what he’s become. Perhaps the hit he took against the Washington Redskins has made him a little more skittish when it comes to catching the ball. Maybe he was trying to push so hard to recover from his injury and perform well for contract reasons that it ended up being counter-productive.

Whatever the case, Jermichael Finley has definitely not been reaching the same level of play that we saw early on. The excuses of youth and immaturity are long gone at this point, so he’ll need to find a way to get back into the game like he once was. Otherwise, he might not see the heavier side of his two-year contract with the Green Bay Packers.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • JimR_in_DC

    Thanks for writing this article, Chad. I really wish we’d see the earlier version of Finley, but I doubt that will ever happen. Perhaps his weight reduction to try to be more of a WR is a factor, as he probably takes more punishment now when he’s hit. I just don’t know…

    • Chad Toporski

      I don’t know, either, and I think that’s most frustrating part about what we’re witnessing.

  • Wagszilla

    As I said in another post I think Quarless has the ability to be the guy moving forward. He has the build, good blocking ability, and shown a strong work ethic.

    The jury is still out on Williams but I’d like to see him get more reps.

    • Chad Toporski

      Quarless showed a lot of promise and improvement before his injury. Let’s hope can recovery fully from that dreadful event.

      And I second your desire to see Williams get more snaps.

  • http://allgbp.com Finely????

    Not a huge Finely fan but would love to see him playing to his ability. Catching the ball is a hand eye thing. Wonder if he’s had his eyes checked. Just sayin’ its possible.

    • Art Rosen

      Not sure if it’s a hand-eye thing. I think it’s a brain thing, it just doesn’t work well when a football is thrown at him. Perhaps it’s a mouth thing. If only his hands were as big as his mouth. Can’t wait to see him go bye bye at the end of the season. We’ve put up with his head-games long enough.

    • john

      Maybe he can catch the ball with his mouth. That might solve his drop problem right there.

  • Big T

    Thinking Finley will change is like thinking obammy will change if elected again… It’s a losing proposition…

    • Chad Toporski

      Ewww… politics? C’mon, man!

  • Gary

    I Fear the only way we will see Finley play to his potential is with another team.

    • Chad Toporski

      Unfortunately, I also lean towards that sentiment. Sometimes that’s all a player needs to really hit his potential, no matter how good of an environment he may be in.

    • Lucas

      GB not resigning him will only serve to inflate his ego…”see, it’s not me…they don’t want me, never wanted to work with me”. On the next team, he’ll still maintain his poor attention to detail and focus and still be the same old Finle.
      Had to drop the y off the name…found it fitting given the context.

  • ELo

    I realize this is hard to quantify but the nature of the dropped passes by Finley are particularly frustrating. That is, it seems a lot of the catches he drops should be relatively easy completions. Maybe I’m tainted, but I think the difficulty of the catch has to be taken into account and Finley seems to miss more easy ones than any other receiver on the roster.

    • steve cheez

      I agree. While I don’t have a bounty of objective statistical evidence to back me up, it does seem that he makes the tough catches but drops the easy one. That’s what leads me to believe it is a mental/concentration thing.

  • Tarynfor12

    I can appreciate anyone’s reasonings for the whys when attempting to get a read on what was/is/will be wrong with Finley.

    When a players’ expectations are hoisted to such levels and an early showing appeared to dictate validity,excuses or reasons for any drop in production or worse,total over-all performance are readily at hand.

    However,he (Finley)IIRC,was more than adamant that he was ready..re-YOTTO’ed and not only would prove it by his physical ability,which we all assumed included catching the ball,and demanded money to place him at the top where he had yet to ascend lest via a shortened season of stats of 10’following the 09′ year of ‘here he comes’.

    The Packers bowed to this to a degree with a two year deal which if taken advantage of by Finley,who again at the signing re-declared his ‘YOTTO’ which and should be the talk of every town for completely different reasons yet isn’t.

    The stats,which I have said are open to interpretation on the there use and the user but,seeing is believing and it isn’t just the number of drops as we know JN,JJ have had theirs also,it’s the simplicity of the majority of the passes he is dropping and it’s getting worse or becoming easier to do so.

    I like many wanted Finley to “YOTTO-ize” the league and be paid accordingly.Am I happy when he makes a great catch sure,but I find it very hard,nearly impossible to fathom he will be stand on the top of ‘Three Level Podium’ as the best do but rather struggle to maintain one leg much less two on the middle rung in the TE division.

    As in boxing,it isn’t a KO until you hear ‘TEN’…Finley is at ‘Seven’ and the Referee is shaking his gloves and asking..”Do you hear me,can you continue” and has even attempted a “YOTTO” yell to get a rise from him.These next three games for me will be the ‘Eight,Nine,Ten…you’re out’ for me forever and ever..AMEN!

    Even I hold a glimpse of hope.

    • Chad Toporski

      Well said. I think most of us want to see him succeed as he once did, but it’s becoming harder to hold onto that hope when things just seem to keep declining.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Loved this bit of prose: “As in boxing,it isn’t a KO until you hear ‘TEN’…Finley is at ‘Seven’ and the Referee is shaking his gloves and asking..”Do you hear me,can you continue” “

  • Mn Pack Fan

    I have had the opportunity to watch Jermichael Finley rehab and train here in MN. He is the consumate professional, family man and a great representative of what a “Packer” should be. I would be very careful casually discussing “the fall” of an athlete so young and talented. To be competitive in this division teams must have multi-tiered offensive weapons and the loss of a versatile athlete to this team would be devastating.

    • Wagszilla

      Nice try, Blake Baratz.

      • JimR_in_DC

        LOL! The problem with Mn Pack Fan’s comment is that it fails to address Finley’s on-field production. All the rest are important, but meaningless if there’s no production.

    • FireMMNow

      I am sure that Finley works extremely hard to prepare in the off season. no one has ever questioned whether he is in good shape. unfortunately, trying hard only gets you so far in professional sports. i am sure that finley really really wants to catch the ball. and the drops are in his head for sure. but beyond all of that he is just not the athlete that everyone thinks he is. i have been saying it for two years.

      do people really believe that teams are gameplanning to take finley away anymore? i just laugh when people say that. he does not run any better than guys like kyle rudolph and brent celek. and he certainly does not catch the ball any better than them. gameplanning to take finley away is like gameplanning against the possibility of edgar bennett suiting up. he is an average player in the nfl, nothing less, nothing more.

    • Chad Toporski

      I’ll never question the professionalism or work ethic of Finley, even if others do. But looking objectively, his production isn’t what it once was. I’m not sure why, or even what the solution is, but if he doesn’t start moving in the other direction, I don’t think it’s worth the cost to keep him around.

      Really, as someone mentioned above, Andrew Quarless’ performance when he comes back from rehab could be a deciding factor.

      • Mike

        I’ve always been one to be patient with Finley, but yes, Quarless coming back strong off his injury could be the final nail, or punch, that gets that count to “TEN”.
        I’ve always wondered what would happen if McCarthy made it known that the starting TE job was open to competition – I feel like some of Finley’s inconsistencies may be the result of him feeling too comfortable with the security of his starting role. Perhaps McCarthy needs to light a fire under Finley to produce even more.
        One last thing that could help – Finley needs to fly out to wherever Rodgers is in the offseason and do nothing but play catch. They don’t necessarily have to run routes every time, but just spending that offseason time together will get their confidence in one another (mainly Rodgers in Finley) back to where it was in 09-10. I know Rodgers doesn’t normally do offseason throwing (see lockout), but I doubt he would say no if Finley were to show up at his doorstep during the offseason wanting to run routes or play catch.

  • marpag

    At this point, Finley is irrelevant, except that he’s a bit of a distraction and his salary is killing our cap.

  • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

    Personally, I’ve always felt Finley takes a lot more criticism than he deserves for the “off the field stuff?” What has he ever done that’s so bad? He’s a bit of a character, and speaks without thinking first sometimes, but in all, so what?

    For that reason, I’ve gone out of my way to defend Finley, but the on-field performance ship has got to right itself soon or it will run aground of my lost patience.

    • Chad Lundberg

      I can see why you feel that way. A little bit of trash-talk aint anything new. Its just that I guess we Packers fans have always had the luxury of having classy professional players, and the few players we’ve had that did trash talk always backed it up.

  • Big T

    As much as I hate T.O., Randy Moss and Ochostinko, these guys could play the game and play it well. Complete dumbazzes off the field however. In Finley we get the worst of both worlds. It seems the more he talks and brags the more balls he drops. Sorry folks he is a cancer and must go bye bye..

  • Tom

    Agree that drops are a problem right now. The bigger issue I believe is that he’s lost his speed and doesn’t play fast anymore, which used to be special. Just doesn’t separate from defenders anymore and THAT affects his YAC. Be very interested to know his 40 time these days. Bet it’s 4.8, 4.9+ which means just about anybody can cover him.

  • LGHSR

    It was a mistake to extend his contract for the price the GBP paid, given his showing last year. I doubt they can get anything worth what they paid him, in a trade. At best he is an expensive decoy. He needs to get rid of his rabbit ears and improve, otherwise NFL = Not For Long – when you play like that.

  • Lefty

    Opponents got physical with him last year and he didn’t adjust so they’re going to keep doing it. I wonder how much he really wants to play the game?

  • Hoosier Pack Fan

    We can analyze this ’til the cows come home. I really don’t care WHY it’s happening. All I know is that he drops balls that are right in his hands.

    In my opinion it comes down to this: If J. Mike was HALF as good as he says he is, he’d be the best TE in football. You can’t expect fans to endear themselves to a guy who (for whatever reason) is all bark and no bite.

    He has also completely mis-handled this leadership thing that his agent said about ARod. A quick phone call saying “You’re fired if you keep this up” would’ve worked wonders. Instead J. Mike waffled all around this and now he openly wonders about his ‘chemistry’ with #12 and saying it’s a 2-way street??? Hello, who is throwing the passes right into your hands?? He’s done his part.

    No way he’s on the Packers roster next year.

  • http://grizzlymitch@bresnan.net montanacheezhead

    Our super bowl win clearly proved that Finley wasn’t needed. You would think that he would understand that and use it as motivation. We have moved the ball without him this year as well. Hard to believe but I really think that he is on his way out of town.

    • john

      There’s a reason why TO can’t get a job right now. He drops passes and is a bad team mate. Finley is heading right down that path.

  • PackersRS

    The drops are a big issue, no doubt.

    But the real problem will be when teams stop accounting for him altogether. They’ve already stopped double-teaming him all game long…

    Right now, he still commands attention, which frees someone else. But he’s not separating like he used to, and he’s dropping balls left and right…

  • PissedoffinAZ

    Maybe a name change would help, like Chad. I suggest JerkMichael Fumbley. Covers on and off field.

  • Shavager

    I feel that McCarthy should let Finley get some bench blisters and watch Crabtree,Ryan Taylor and DJ Williams get some time starting–best way to get the message to a “prima-donna” is let him know he’s NOT! I was for Pack cutting JJones for same problem during GB’s SB run in ’10, have to credit JJones–he is the MOST improved offensive player while Finley continues the same problem he had last season–not just drops, but drops at critical points when team needs him most.

  • Derty Ernie

    We’ve all experienced the ‘been there done that thing’. With Findley, I’ve been there – saw a top notch tight end years ago, unstoppable. Got his absolute bell rung, missed remainder of season and never was the same. Terrified to go up the middle and catch the ball. Dropped more balls than a juggler trainee.
    When I saw Findley go down I recalled this and said, gee I wonder if he will come back and start up where he left off or remind me of the guy from the past.