For 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|
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|
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:
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.——————Follow @ChadToporski