Faceoff: Jermichael Finley
Will Grant: What's not to like about Jermichael Finley? His QB Aaron Rodgers has been either the No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy quarterback over the last four seasons, and in 2011 he set career bests in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and yards per attempt. Finley bounced back from his injury-shortened season in 2010 to finish as the No. 5 fantasy tight end, with career best numbers in all receiving categories. Even as the third receiving option on the team, Finley is ROCK STOLID as a fantasy tight end.
For 2012, expect more of the same. Green Bay still has a mediocre running game and will still need to rely heavily on the passing game to win. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson will still be the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers, and Finley will still be the tight end who is going to create mismatches for opposing defenses. With opposing defenses trying to stop the guys on the outside, Finley will have no problem using his size and speed to wreak havoc.
Near the goal line, Finley is a top target for Aaron Rodgers. The Packers frequently line Finley up on the outside, where he is isolated against a smaller linebacker or third-string cornerback. Rodgers lobs him the ball or hits him on the quick slant - instant six-point touchdown. You simply can't cover Finley one-on-one near the goal line.
Your one knock might be that he probably won't finish with 70+ receptions like the other top-five tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Jason Witten. In PPR leagues, especially where they award a tight end bonus of 1.5 points, you may want to bump him down a peg or two. He'll still be a second-tier tight end in those leagues though, so don't bump him down very far. You can feel comfortable to draft him as your No. 1 tight end option, and then wait deep into the draft to back him up. He's just too talented to ignore.
Mark Wimer: Jermichael Finley played a full season for the first time in his four-year NFL career last year, and he set a career high for targets, with 101 passes coming his way from Aaron Rodgers. Finley also set a career high for touchdowns, with eight to his credit, and gained a career-best 767 yards receiving. He is young (25 years old for the 2012 season) and plays on an explosive passing attack. What's not to like?
For one thing, though Finley set a career high with 101 targets, he managed just 55 receptions, for a 54.5% reception percentage, well below his percentage from 2009, (when he played in 13 games) with 71 targets for 55 receptions, 676 receiving yards, and five touchdowns - a 77.5% reception percentage. Finley regressed significantly in reliability during 2011, which gradually lessened his importance to Rodgers as the season went along, reducing his impact as a touchdown scoring threat.
During weeks one through nine (the first eight games of 2011), Rodgers attempted 263 passes with 191 completions for 2.613 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, and two interceptions. During that time frame, Finley saw 44 passes for 30 catches, 378, yards, and five touchdowns receiving (68.2% reception percentage). Finley caught 20.8% of the available touchdown passes and saw 16.7% of Rodgers' attempted passes.
During the weeks 10 through 17 (the second eight games of 2011), Rodgers attempted 236 passes with 151 completions for 2,024 yards, 21 passing touchdowns, and three interceptions. Finley was targeted 48 times for 25 receptions, 389 yards, and three touchdowns receiving (52.1% reception percentage). Though Finley saw a greater share of the passes attempted (20.3%), he caught 14.3% of available touchdown passes, and as shown above, Finley was barely over 50% in reception percentage. There was a big drop-off in effectiveness on the part of Finley from the first half of 2011 to the second half, as you can see.
Worse yet, Rodgers appeared to lose faith in Finley during the run into the 2011 playoffs, and performance issues lingered on into the playoffs for Finley. He saw just one target in Week 14 versus Oakland, with zero receptions, and managed to catch just three of the 10 passes Rodgers threw him versus Kansas City the next week (10 targets for 3/83/0). Finley did score in the game against Chicago (six targets for 3/20/1), but he was held out of the end zone in the playoff game against the Giants (nine targets for 4/37/0 receiving). In short, Finley was not particularly reliable/successful playing with Rodgers during the final weeks of last season. It remains to be seen if Finley can mend fences with Rodgers - the Packers did sign Finley to a two-year, $15 million deal in late February. However, the Packers negotiated a $4.45 million roster bonus due in 2013 into the deal, giving the Packers an out with no future cap hit if they decide to cut ties with Finley after this season. Instead of a long-term deal, they have basically signed Finley to a one-year, show-me type of contract. Finley is under pressure to prove he can get the magic back with Rodgers during the 2012-13 season.
Given the deep array of targets that Rodgers enjoys in Green Bay at the wide receiver position, I believe that Finley will have a hard time bettering his numbers from last season, and, in fact, is in a position that may lead to a drop in fantasy performance. For these reasons, he is far down on my tight end rankings (No. 18 on my non-PPR board, and No. 20 on my PPR rankings).