Packers Annual Checkup: Jermichael Finley

Before his injury, Jermichael Finley was breaking or avoiding tackles at a rate far more frequent than any other NFL tight end.

Evan Habeeb/Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

 

FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.

Jermichael Finley, tight end

Season stats: Six games (259 snaps); 25 catches, 34 targets, 300 yards, three touchdowns, two dropped passes, forced 10 missed tackles

ProFootballFocus.com season rating: minus-2.8 (ranked No. 16 out of 23 Packers offensive players; ranked No. 38 out of 64 qualified NFL tight ends)

Best game: Week 2 win over Washington (played 45 of 74 snaps); six catches (seven targets), 65 yards, one touchdown, zero dropped passes, forced four missed tackles; 1.4 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 6 win at Baltimore (played 55 of 69 snaps); three catches (seven targets), 75 yards, zero touchdowns, one dropped pass, forced zero missed tackles; minus-1.9 PFF rating)

Expectations at the start of the season: High

Expectations were … Met

Looking live: Jermichael Finley was listed at No. 7 in the "Most Important Packers in 2013" series. Coming off a 2012 season in which he broke the franchise mark for catches by a tight end (61), Finley seemed capable of even surpassing that impressive number if he improved upon his 12.86 percent drop rate. Finley had been steadily improving his rate of dropped passes, as he was at 17.91 percent in 2011. With his contract expiring at the end of the 2013 season, Finley came into training camp determined. Every pass he caught during a drill, Finley would run it out all the way to the end zone, even though that wasn’t the expectation in the practice setting. Finley explained that he was trying to re-enforce the idea of picking up as many yards after catch (YAC) as possible and training himself to do it when there wasn’t live tackling. The Aaron Rodgers to Finley connection was on point as the second week of training camp got underway. On both Aug. 2 and Aug. 6, practice concluded with Rodgers finding Finley in the end zone for touchdowns. The two of them were clearly on the same page, and Rodgers was happily getting Finley involved often. Finley was so consistent with his catches that when he dropped a pass from Rodgers on Day 14, it was noted in the Training Camp Report series. Rodgers called Finley’s recent play "awesome" at that time.

Upon further review: All of that YAC work in training camp paid off big time for Finley in the regular season. He forced 10 missed tackles, which ranked him seventh in the NFL among tight ends in that category. That was despite only playing in six games and being on the field for 259 snaps. Every tight end who finished with more forced missed tackles than Finley during the 2013 season played somewhere between 337 and 737 more snaps than he did. Basically, Finley was breaking or avoiding tackles at a rate far more frequent than any other NFL tight end. In the four full games in which Finley was healthy, he had an average of seven targets from Rodgers. Finley’s previous career-high average in any of his first five NFL seasons was 5.8 targets per game. So, like they were in training camp, Rodgers and Finley were on the same page and working well together. All signs were pointing towards 2013 being a season in which Finley could have been mentioned among the league’s three best receiving tight ends. Of course, Finley’s season ended up being cut short. It was during a Week 3 collision that he suffered a concussion, an injury that led to Finley’s own son saying that he didn’t want his dad to play football anymore. Finley was back on the field two weeks later, though. However, on Oct. 20 at home against Cleveland, Finley got knocked down and couldn’t get back up. He had suffered a serious neck injury, one that required him to be carted off of Lambeau Field. Finley soon underwent neck surgery and was placed on injured reserve.

Overall 2013 grade: B

Status for 2014: Ten percent chance of being on Green Bay’s active roster to begin the 2014 regular season. The Packers have one of the most conservative medical staffs in the NFL. They wouldn’t clear Nick Collins, who had fusion neck surgery on the exact same area (C3-C4 vertebrae). Sean Richardson was eventually cleared after neck surgery, but his injury was farther down the neck (C5-C6 fusion), which is more likely for a player to come back from. Finley is also an unrestricted free agent, so even without the injury there would be plenty of doubt about his 2014 status in Green Bay. While Finley is on the road to recovery and is confident that his NFL career is not over, it seems highly unlikely that any potential return to football happens in a Packers uniform.

Next: Quarterback Matt Flynn

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