Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2013 season. Check back each day to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 7 – JERMICHAEL FINLEY, TIGHT END
AGE / EXPERIENCE
26 / Sixth NFL season
WHY HE’S NO. 7
Even as Jermichael Finley approaches his sixth year in the NFL, there’s some good, some bad and still a couple question marks.
The good qualities that Finley offers to the Green Bay Packers begin with his elite athleticism and size at the tight end position. He’s the perfect type of target that a quarterback wants to look for in the middle of the field. Last season, Finley had more catches (61) than any tight end in franchise history. Yes, the NFL has evolved into more of a passing league, so records like that are going to be broken sooner or later. But that shouldn’t diminish the value that Finley added by accounting for one out of every six completions thrown by Aaron Rodgers.
Most of the bad aspects of Finley’s game are things that can be corrected. It’s important to note that a couple of those negatives appear to be on the verge of actually being corrected. The 12 dropped passes that plagued Finley’s 2011 season fell to nine drops last season. Plus, over the final 10 games (playoffs included) in 2012, Finley dropped only two passes, and that was out of 50 targets. Finley also seems to be working on becoming a better teammate in the locker room. In recent years, when Finley felt there was a lack of chemistry with Rodgers, he had no hesitation in sharing his feelings. It’s still early, but Finley is making an effort to no longer do that. Finley has struggled as a run-blocker, and that has not improved much over the years.
The question marks with Finley mostly involve how big of a factor he can consistently be for the Packers. With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver gone, Finley should have the opportunities to be one of Green Bay’s leading receivers. For that to happen, he’ll need to keep his drops at the rate in which he concluded last season and be on the same page with Rodgers.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
Part of the reason for Finley being No. 7 on this list is because he has met (or has come close to meeting) relatively high expectations in recent seasons. If the expectation is for Finley to be the best tight end in the NFL, no, he’s not done that. And, no, it’s unlikely that coach Mike McCarthy will ever plan the offense around him again in the same way he sometimes did before Finley’s knee injury in 2010. But, if it’s a more realistic expectation that includes Finley’s drops decreasing and his receptions increasing, that will probably happen.
Finley is in the last year of his current contract and will try to show the Packers — and every other team in the NFL — that he’s worth a big payday next offseason. Though Finley has already played five years in the league, he’s still only going to be 26 when he signs a new deal after this season.
It will be very important for the Packers that Finley can perform at a high level in 2013. His record-breaking number of catches last season was a positive for Green Bay’s offense, but Finley will be expected to have far more than the two touchdowns he did in 2012. As a fair comparison, Finley had eight touchdown catches in 2011. Finley also needs to have fewer drops and block well enough in the running game that he can stay on the field for more snaps.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
The group of tight ends behind Finley is an interesting collection of talent.
Andrew Quarless missed the entire 2012 season with a knee injury, but what he brings to the Packers’ offense is most similar to what Finley does well. Quarless, who is now completely medically cleared, is a big body who can catch passes down the middle of the field. He’s not a great run-blocker, but he typically performs better in that area than Finley.
D.J. Williams is undersized for the position at 6-foot-2, but he was college football’s top tight end in 2010. In many training camp practices over the past two seasons, Williams often showed why he won the John Mackey Award by displaying impressive pass-catching abilities.
Matthew Mulligan was added this offseason to replace Tom Crabtree. Mulligan is a terrific run-blocker who understands and accepts his role. He may only catch three passes all season, but don’t be surprised when Green Bay’s running game efficiency improves with him on the field.
Ryan Taylor will likely continue his role as a special teams player who sometimes gets on the field on offense as a run-blocker.
While those four tight ends are all good players, none of them are quite at Finley’s level. That’s why Finley has great value to the Packers and will be a major factor in how their season plays out.