This season, there seems to be no other Green Bay Packers player more controversial than tight end Jermichael Finley. In the final year of his contract, coming off a season spent mostly on injured reserve, he has been under intense scrutiny by fans. Number one, can he stay healthy? And number two, can he be the offensive juggernaut he was predicted to be?
I think we’ve found out the answer to the first question: yes, he can stay healthy. He hasn’t missed a single game all season.
It’s that other question, though, that has fans arguing the most.
While I was sitting in the upper deck of MetLife stadium on Sunday, I couldn’t believe the number of passes I watched Jermichael Finley drop. After his third one, both my older brother and I looked at each other with mutual frustration. And in the heat of the moment, I even called for him to be taken out of the game.
This, of course, is why I am not a coach. Finley’s first-down reception in the Packers’ final possession was a crucial jump start to the game-winning drive. He obviously has the talent and ability to make those big plays, and we’ve seen them all season.
But we’ve also seen the drops.
According to STATS LLC., Jermichael Finley has 8 dropped passes so far this season, tying him for sixth place in the NFL. (He’s third in the NFC behind only Roddy White and DeSean Jackson.) No other Green Bay receiver has more than three drops this year, providing a stark contrast to this issue.
Additionally, TeamRankings.com has Finley listed at just a 62.7% catch rate, ranking him 17th among tight ends and 70th among all receivers (who are on pace for at least 30 receptions or 60 pass targets). Guys like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Fred Davis, and Jason Witten seem to be more dominating – at least statistically – than Finley. They’ve outdone him in catch rate, targets, and total yardage, and both Graham and Gronkowski each have more touchdowns.
Isn’t he supposed to be this monster tight end who should be impossible to defend? Haven’t some of us been touting him as the best tight end in the league?
Yes, some of those statistics are products of different offenses. The Packers have a very deep corps of receivers, and it’s very much a team mentality as far as who gets the ball. Still, New Orleans and New England are two teams with similar offensive muscle that don’t have many problems spreading the wealth among their players.
And really, it’s not even about the statistics. They’re just mainly support for what we’ve been witnessing the past few weeks. How many times have we groaned lately at a drop by Jermichael Finley?
Too many, if you ask me. Peter King, in his Week 13 “Monday Morning QB,” even wrote: “Jermichael Finley’s not in the class of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, in my mind. Drops too many.”
“But wait!” some of you might say. “He still had 6 receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Giants!”
True. He’s also had more touchdowns so far this year than any other year in his NFL career. And he’s averaged about the same number of yards per game as he did in 2009. (Though to be fair, his catch rate in 2009 was also 75.3%, heads above this year’s rate.)
The big stat, however, is his yards per catch. At 14.3, it stands above the four tight ends mentioned earlier, with Gronkowski edging the closest. So when he does get the catches, he is making a lot out of them.
It also seems to highlight the way the Packers utilize Finley. He has been spread out as a wide receiver probably more times than any other tight end in the league. (If someone can find the stats to confirm or deny that claim, feel free to post it.) Finley’s not going to be the type of tight end that takes the dump off passes and short routes on most of his snaps. His role in many cases is to stretch the field vertically and perhaps draw coverage towards him. We saw the Denver Broncos focus so much on him that other receivers were left to run free.
Putting all that together, we have to ask ourselves: is Jermichael Finley simply underperforming, or has he been overrated by fans and the media?
Let me set the disclaimer out right away: we’re not going to know this year the definitive answer to that question. And we might actually never know depending on his future with the Packers, because it will require us to compare this year with more samples of his ability than we already have.
At this point, though, I am going to lean towards Finley being an underperformer with a sprinkling of being overrated.
Look, the biggest thing against him this year is the drops. He doesn’t have a fumble to his name, he’s making good yardage on his completions, and in most respects he’s performing better than he did in 2009 when he actually played for most of the season.
That said, I also think comments about him being the best tight end in the league is simply short-sightedness on the part of Packers fans. Finley has a long way to go and a lot to prove before we can suddenly bestow such a title upon him.
The silver lining is that drops can be corrected. We’ve seen it very recently with James Jones, a receiver who still has last year’s reputation. This year Jones has dropped very few of his targets, and while he hasn’t been as involved as much as last year, you can tell that those days are behind him.
And then look at a guy like Adrian Peterson. He had 19 fumbles in his first three years with the Vikings; however, after working to correct it, he has just two fumbles over the past two seasons.
Look, I have been very frustrated with Jermichael Finley’s performance this year. But I think we have to step back and look at the whole picture.
We tend to remember the big plays, both negative and positive, while we conveniently forget the rest of what happens. And drops are big plays. They stick out in our memory, because they are so frustrating to watch, especially on key drives.
But the truth of the matter is that it is correctable. Jermichael Finley has been known for his great hands, and for all intents and purposes, we have to at this point consider these drops to be an anomaly. He could very well be this year’s James Jones and come bouncing back next year with a catch percentage rate back in the mid-70’s.
The bad news is that Jermichael Finley is not achieving his potential this year. The good news is that the potential exists, and he just has to get there.——————Follow @ChadToporski