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Is Richard Rodgers Better for the Packers than Jermichael Finley?

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Is Richard Rodgers Better for the Packers than Jermichael Finley?

Talent wise the Packers have never had a tight end like Jermichael Finley. Finley was an athletic freak who could dominate and change games with one play. When his career ended from a neck injury in week 7 of the 2013 season, it appeared to be a major blow to the Packers offense.

The Packers are and have been a dominant passing team and it would make sense for them to need-or at least prefer-an elite receiving tight end. The past 15 seasons have seen plenty of solid receivers come and go from the Packers’ roster, but there has only been one tight end with the potential to be dominant. Bubba Franks and Donald Lee were okay and they put up numbers, but they weren’t Jermichael Finley.

This season’s roster has no dominant tight end or really any potential for a dominant tight end. Manned by Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers there is potential for the Packers to be very solid at tight end, but talent wise those two are nothing like what Finley could bring to the table.

During Finley’s time in Green Bay there was never much competition behind him on the roster. Names like Tom Crabree, Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, and Ryan Taylor aren’t ones that you think of when you think of good pass-catching tight ends. Sure, Crabtree and Quarless have had their moments, but that’s it-moments.

Green Bay Packers Tight Ends 2009-2014
Player Throw At Percentage Catch Percentage Drop Percentage Yards Per Attempt Yards Per Catch
TEs not named Finley 5.40% 68.69% 9.09% 7.13 10.38
Jermichael Finley 12.10% 70.92% 8.82% 8.86 12.49
2014 TEs 6.46% 66.23% 6.49% 7.16 10.80

 

When Finley was on the field Rodgers threw the ball to him 12.1 percent of the time. Meaning Rodgers threw to Finley over twice as often when he was on the field than he threw to the other tight ends on the roster when they were on the field. He looked for Finley much more often despite him only catching two percent more of the passes thrown to him than the other players.

Finley and the other tight ends since 2009 both had roughly the same drop percentage at around 9 percent of the passes thrown to them.  Where Finley set himself apart was his yards per attempt and yards per catch, especially yards per catch where Finley sees himself gain almost two more yards per catch than the other tight ends. Obviously Finley is a big play guy who could get down field and (theoretically) break tackles (Finley was actually quite bad at breaking tackles-with the exception of 2013-for a man his size). A big part of Finley’s larger yards per catch was Rodgers having trust in him to try to win one-on-one matchups and that Rodgers was much more likely to throw it deeper downfield to Finley than the other tight ends. Which is obviously a complement to Finley's abilities. 

The 2014 tight ends were shockingly similar to the tight ends behind Finley in 2009-2013 in terms of yards per attempt and yards per catch (7.15 and 7.13 yards per attempt and 10.80 and 10.38 yards per catch respectively). With roughly half as many passes thrown to the backup tight ends as he did to Finley in 2009 to 2013, Rodgers also looked for the tight ends last season at a similar rate that was roughly half of the rate he threw to Finley over his career.

Rodgers didn’t treat Finley like he treated the other tight ends, he treated him like a wide receiver. Both in terms of volume of passes thrown to him, how far down the field the passes were thrown, and where he was lined up. Finley was frequently spread out and lined up as a fourth or fifth receiver for the Packers.

The 8.9 yards per attempt and 12.5 yards per catch on passes thrown to Finley are amazingly the same as Rodgers’ 8.8 yards per attempt and 12.5 yards per completion for his career.

What is telling to me in the table above is just how similar the other tight ends' percentages are to Finley in terms of catch percentage and drop percentage. Yes, Finley caught two percent more of the passes thrown to him than his backup tight ends, but he dropped them at the same rate and Finley had the benefit of getting lots of passes thrown to him, so one drop doesn’t hurt his numbers as much. Finley was the better receiving option, but it wasn't staggering.

Make no mistake about it, Finley dropped a lot of passes. Pro Football Focus looks at passes they deem catchable and creates a drop rate for those passes. Looking at those numbers in comparison to other receiving tight ends around the league puts into perspective just how many passes Finley dropped.

 
Jermichael Finley PFF Drop Rate
Year Drop Rate NFL Rank Among Qualified TEs
2013 7.41% N/A
2012 12.86% 4th worst
2011 17.91% Worst in the NFL
2010 0% N/A
2009 6.78% 8th Worst

 

In the two seasons where Finley was healthy and a heavily featured part of the offense (2011 and 2012) he dropped a higher percentage of catchable passes thrown to him than any other qualified tight end. That hurts and it is very frustrating to watch.

Everyone knows that Finley had troubles with drops throughout his career however. Not breaking tackles and Dick Clark counting down for the ball drop on catchable passes was something that you just had to live with to have Jermichael on the team. He obviously brought other benefits to the team that were hard to find anywhere else.

What bugged me more than the drops and broken tackles was the usage for Finley. Not only did Rodgers look to Finley often, they would make a point to do it. Either to keep him happy or because they thought they had a mismatch due to his size. They often tried to lineup Finley one-on-one with a defender because they preceived it as a mismatch and let him try to win the battle while the ball was in the air. It was like watching the iso game in the NBA. The only difference is LeBron James can fairly consistently win his one-on-one matchups when there is no help defenders coming. I didn’t think that was something Finley did very well and having that star tight end whom you felt needed to be fed the ball often took the passing game out of rhythm more often than it helped the passing game gain any kind of momentum.

This was especially true in the red zone where the Packers would purposely run plays for Finley and just throw it up to him in hopes that he would make the play, he often did not. Just because Jermichael was physically gifted, it did not mean that he was a good red zone option. Running plays in hopes that one guy will make the play is a poor option. Randall Cobb showed last year with 10 red zone touchdowns that you do not need to be a huge player to excel in the red zone. Working within the flow of the game and using the system designed to get one of the many talented receiving options on this team open is what works best. Let the receivers get open and trust the best quarterback in the NFL will do his job and find them.

Last year in his rookie year on passes to Richard Rodgers he averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and 11.3 yards per reception, right in between the averages for Jermichael and the other tight ends since 2009. Richard Rodgers also only dropped one pass all season in the limited number of passes that were thrown his way. Posting a 3.45 drop percentage and on easily catchable passes he ended up with a drop rate of 4.76 percent according to PFF. If he were to continue that pace over a season of full-time work, those would be some elite hands and would consistently be in the top five in the NFL for tight end drop rate.

Richard Rodgers’ 4.76 drop rate last season combined with Quarless’ 5.88 and 6.45 drop rates for the last two seasons are all three lower than any season Finley had in his career outside of 2010 where he only played five games. I don't think that can be overstated. Not catching passes can and will kill drives. Even if they aren't going to be making the big plays, they will make the plays that they are supposed to and allow the team to keep the ball and ultimately give them a better shot at scoring.

The combination of Richard Rodgers and Quarless at tight end this year catching what is thrown to them, not commanding passes, and simply working within the offensive system is-to me-a better option for the Packers offense than someone like Finley. There is no doubt that Finley is the more talented player of the three, but I think the Packers offense works better whenAaron Rodgers is allowed to find the open man and not simply relying on any one player to hopefully make the play, especially at tight end. With the exception of Finley, Aaron Rodgers has shown he isn’t always a fan of using his tight ends a lot when he has receivers that get themselves open regularly, so why try to force it? The Packers ran the most efficient offense in the NFL last year and it is largely because they allowed Aaron Rodgers to simply do his thing in the pass game.

Obviously Richard Rodgers needs to work on his run blocking abiltiy, which was at times last season dreadful. I am willing to let it slide considering it was his rookie year in hopes that he can at least get it up to Finley's level. Which was mediocre, but that's all the Packers are really asking out of him.

Richard Rodgers has the ability to be someone who is between just being a check down safety valve and a elite pass catching option, which is perfect for this offense.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (51) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Nick Perry's picture

I was never the huge Finley fan some were. That 2011 season where he had the high drop % seemed HIGHER than that, he drove me nuts that year. I read something somewhere (Yes the memory is that bad guys) yesterday where they broke down the difference with Rodgers run blocking last year. The Packers were considerably worse running the ball with Rodgers on the field blocking than they were when he was on the sideline. With that said I still like Rodgers and really hope he'll improve and I'd think he would, even this year. The kid had great hands, that TD pass against Detroit, the 3rd down catch against Dallas were both rocket balls thrown by Rodgers.

With the talent the Packers have at WR they don't have to have a elite TE. Most NFL teams don't have 2 CB to stop Cobb and Nelson. Now this year with Adams teams will really struggle to stop this team from hanging 30 every game. Throw in a Lacy, Rodgers, and a year wiser Janis AND a handful of plays for Montgomery, I believe the Packers will do just fine with whatever they get from Rodgers and/or Quarless.

The TKstinator's picture

I definitely think that blocking is a skill that can be worked on and improved.

Nick Perry's picture

Totally agree and it seems he's the type of kid that would work really hard at his craft to improve the area where he's weakest. At Cal they didn't have him blocking much, wasn't he a WR one year and a TE the next when they changed coaches?

The TKstinator's picture

Good article, Mike.
It reminds me of when Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire. Folks were asking, "Now who is 4 gonna throw to?" And the answer was "the open man". I don't have stats to back it up but it sure seems to me that any QB will perform better with the "open man" approach vs forcing the ball in to the "superstar" receiver.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I actually think Rodgers will be better in the endzone than Finley. His ability to box out and make tight catches is already very good, and I expect his blocking to improve.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I agree. Also, Rodgers doesn't whine or flop.

Nerd's picture

Nor does he annually proclaim that he's taking over the league, then fail to do so. #yotto

porupack's picture

Ok, can't argue too much; but your argument is that Finley (the quasi-elite TE) was a mixed blessing. But then you generalize and assert GB wouldn't benefit from a field-stretching, athletic TE. Those are two different things. I think GB should have sought a higher draft prospect, investing more stakes in the position. The TE position used creatively presents so much unpredictability if the TE is multi-skilled (blocking-catching) and can threaten the middle of the field from many angles that a WR can't. Just think GB has to keep altering, and not stagnate on what worked last year.

Nerd's picture

RR played WR, dude can run a route. Many of the players on this team don't have "elite" top end speed. But most of them play faster than they time. Part of that is due to what happens at Lambeau in the winter months, which tends to mitigate top end speed, or the lack thereof.

RCPackerFan's picture

Finley was a very talented player. He had a skill set that most TE's would want.

Rodgers I think will continue to develop into a really good TE. In his year 2 jump I want to see him improve his blocking, and get more in sync with Rodgers. I can see him becoming Rodgers safety net player that he looks for on 3rd downs and in the redzone.

That is where I think we will start to see Rodgers making a bigger impact, is on 3rd downs and in the red zone.

He might not be Finley or other flashier TE's, but if he can be a Heath Miller type of TE for the Packers, that's all that they need.

Tundraboy's picture

Agree. 3rd downs and especially the red zone, he will have a big impact this year.

Since '61's picture

Mike - nice job as usual. I agree that the current Packers TE position group is solid. However, a field stretching TE would put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses if added to this current Packers offense. Imagine having Jordy, Cobb, an improved Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and a Finley type TE on the field. That's a huge problem for an opposing DC, especially if Cobb is in he backfield as a RB threat. There should be at least 2 one on one matchups that these Packers receivers would win. It would really open up this offense. Nothing against R. Rodgers or Quarless but the only missing piece that I see from the 2015 Packers offense is the lack of a true TE threat. Thanks, Since '61

Tundraboy's picture

As you know I would love a field stretching tight end, but having one who can block decently is very hard to come by and we just never are inclined to draft one it seems. Unless they find a diamond in the rough. Of course we cant hold our breath on that one.

Nerd's picture

Kennard Backman is in the pipeline. He's gotta prove he belongs in the NFL this summer. If he can do that, then next year he gets his shot.

Bearmeat's picture

All this is true Mike. But I'd add that Finley on the field also changed the way defenses played GBs offense. Finley was the man under 2 high safety buster that KILLED GB until Lacy showed up.

While Fin-head was certainly maddening, he undeniably made the offense more potent. RRod has potential to be a Jay Novacek lite player on 3rd downs and in the red zone. Ditto Quarless. But neither can outrun a safety or a faster MLB/WILB. Fin-head could do that.

GBs O will be fine either way this year and probably next too. But if we are picking at peccadilloes, the seam route is probably no longer a route in MMs playbook.

Guisado's picture

Bingo! Since the Packers had no running game, MM and ARodgers decided Finley was GB's answer for the cover 2. Rodgers forced it to him to make defenses more honest. It started to work but Finely couldn't quite take the step to elite. When Lacy showed up, he became the solution for the cover 2. He's been more effective at that, while also costing less and being a solid all around dude.

So the question should really be: is Eddie Lacy better for the Packers than Finley? (the answer is yes, imo) But Rich Rod does not really replace Finley, or at least what his primary purpose was in the bigger Offensive picture.

Nick Perry's picture

You're absolutely correct. If defenses played the Packers in Cover 2 Rodgers would run audible and Lacy was running the ball right down their throats. If they dropped a safety down he was killing them with the passing game. Great defenses could slow Cobb and Nelson down some. Throw Adams and the gang in this year it's truly pick your poison. Remember the week 17 game against the Lions? Lacy killed them whenever they played both safeties high.

Handsback's picture

Rodgers the TE will become an end zone target this year. We may see it, but other teams may dictate the action go to another player like Cobb, or Adams.

I could see many teams realizing they can't cover all of those guys and to blitz the heck out of Rodgers the QB so his timing will be off. This will be a chess match all year.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

Historically, Rodgers is the least blitzed QB in the league. He is also the best against the blitz, passer rating- wise. Bring on the blitz!

DrealynWilliams's picture

"Bring on the blitz!"

Only when he's healthy -- of course. lol

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

of course!

croatpackfan's picture

Good analysis... I agree with you!

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

I like Rogers well both of them really. Thing is the TE can and does make some good catches. He does seem to get open and to me a few more years he could be what we have been looking for, Quarless might be on his way out after this year.

Idiot Fan's picture

I think my feeling on Finley was always impacted by the 2009 playoff game against AZ. That was like watching a man among boys. Based solely on that game, I had always thought that Finley was ready to dominate the league. But you're right, he never seemed to do so. And between the drops and Rodgers' occasional forcing of the ball to him, it never seemed as good as it should have been.

Regarding RRodgers, I'm less interested to see if he can split the seam this year and more interested to see if he can block. Not only did his blocking suck last year, there were a handful of key plays where he totally got blown up (safety in DET, goal line in SEA, etc.).

Jay Hodgson's picture

I agree. Let's hope a year in an NFL weight room has done some wonders.

Idiot Fan's picture

That being said, lest we forget what Finley was capable of...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnWzc-PnvUE

Tarynfor12's picture

Finley,though having talent and looking the part of a very intimidating,field stretching,one on one match up nightmare and other assorted descriptions,never came close to what was being marketed into the imaginations of fans and worse yet,that of the offensive planning of the Packers.

Sure he had moments as like other TE's of such bestowed status,but far less and much further apart than other TE's of marketed expectations.In reality,he was ultimately more a failed concept in both the real play over all and in the imaginary induced of the fans except for those who deny things more often just for denial sake.

Finley,was a huge 'if only ' factor for the Packers and aside from a nice ' did' on the very rare occasion,he came and went as nothing more than an 'if only' factor.

This season,Richard Rodgers may actually have Finley appearing as mediocre,not via actual body structure,but by actual on field performance,something the faithful for Finley never seen and never came close to as it pertains to the 'if only' deserved label.

I would dare to say the contributions by Finley over all on the field,made it a more easier possible for the Packers to lose than his over hyped and rated play made it easier to win.

Finley's best season can be erased by R.Rodgers in his second season and that alone will offer enough to put the 'if only' Finley to bed once and for all. :)

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Mike, nice article and I love the raw data. Not sure that I can draw the same conclusions, though.

The most damning data in Mike's article is how similar the GB's two starting TEs in 2015 were to Finley's back-ups. We are talking Donald Lee and Spencer Havner (who at least could find the end zone) and Quarless and Crabtree (who could block).

I would suggest that the problem was not that it's bad to have an athletic TE who can stretch the field and block in a so-so fashion; rather, it was bad that he was a diva.

I don't find Finley's targeting percentage to be high for a good TE. By my rough calculations, Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were at 15.8% & 16.2% last year.

Finally, Rodgers had one lonely TD, and that was due to an absolutely great pass thrown by Aaron, one that few other QBs could try, much less execute. Quarless added 3 TDs. 4 TDs combined from your TEs is bad.

I like Richard R and think if he can learn to block, he can be a fine #2 TE. Quarless should be a #3 TE.

Idiot Fan's picture

Keep in mind that last year was only RRodgers' rookie year. Finley did almost nothing his rookie year. The only thing I remember about Finley's rookie year was when we went for it on fourth and goal against the undefeated Titans and threw a fade to Finley, who didn't catch it, and then after the game said that the pass could have been thrown better.

Steve Cheez's picture

Us Packer fans may or may not be the most loyal (as discussed in a previous post) but we sure do have some long memories. I was thinking back to that exact same play.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I remembered. Repdgers was a nice #3 TE last year in his rookie year. I expect him to improve to being a #'2 TE.

cheesehead1's picture

Already R. Rodgers is more reliable than Finley ever was. I used to cringe every time the ball was thrown to Finley. Terrible hands IMO. Hopefully Backman will surprise us. Don't know much about him though. Anyone know what was the main reason he was drafted so late??

Archie's picture

Finley couldn't catch. Rodgers can't block. Pick your poison. I'd prefer a nice 2-way TE. Tyler Eifert would have been my choice.

Mr.Bigg's picture

Rogers is a coach's son. You know damn well he will come back stronger, smarter and more experienced. His Dad was probably coaching him up and telling him exactly what he needs to do.

I have much faith in this young man. Big butt is a blessing. Low center of gravity. Good hands. Ok speed. And he is a good teammate.

That I am sorry to say was Fins' worst trait- not good teammate.

Jeff Hayes's picture

I believe Rodgers will develop into one of the best catching TE's this team has ever had but he needs to work on his blocking skills. When he gets that down pact he could be one of the best just with his size and speed alone but with his ability to run routes and catch better than most he could turn out as a weapon to be feared.

ben's picture

Is Richard Rodgers Better for the Packers than Jermichael Finley?

Richard the toolbox Rodgers isn't better than anybody.

He's one of the worst blocking TE I've ever seen. Runs exactly like an offensive tackle. (like he's got a toolbox shoved down his uniform)

Good hands, but regardless of wasting a 3rd round draft pick on him, Rodgers shouldn't see the field or be on the team for that matter.

Finley & Quarless are far better than Rodgers ever could be.

Should have kept Stoneburner

ben's picture

are packer fans the most loyal?

to the point of being delusional.

Tarynfor12's picture

Ben,
I have no direct issue with trolls and I myself have been called such at times by some here with whom I disagree with but I have never visited another teams site to do what you and others like you have done and apparently will continue to do.I will however leave this little tidbit for you to ponder each time you decide to make travel and visit another teams site with trolling on your agenda.

"There are some who have grown so accustomed to their own flatulence,they cease to recognize their own stench."

Credit to Elementary's Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller

tylerbigred's picture

First I apologize for this but I am so sick of hearing about what great potential that Jermichael Finley had. It never really showed on the field when it mattered. Sure, I am very sorry that he got hurt and he might have make a real difference if he had not. I totally agree with the post by Nick Perry to the article. Finley all but caused a controversy between Aaron Rodgers and himself that had it continued to fester unquestionably would have led to Finley being traded or outright released. PLEASE , let's put Finley behind us, concentrate on the two good tight ends now on the roster and quit wasting time and ink about Finley. It is just fine to feel sorry for him because of his injury, but as far as helping the Green Bay Packers, Finley is history

danjones's picture

Fan of Finely when he was drafted, but then reality came. His drops and his outbursts of being elite showed that he was elite only while taking a shower. Richard Rogers and A.Q. will make a nice one-two punch.

Lphill's picture

Let's give R Rodgers a chance to prove himself this season , all we need is some decent blocking and a pair of sure hands , I think he is capable . As for the comments from Ben , it's just a shame that these Vikings fans have to come on Packer Sites and talk trash but hey that's what Losing does to people . Jealous much Ben?

Nerd's picture

Another thing about RR: Aaron probably won't have to have special meetings with him the night before games, to get him up to speed on the game plan.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

ZING!!

Gman1976's picture

As I was reading the above replies, two things came to mind. One, didn't we win the Superbowl without Finley? And two, QB Rogers can make most any receiver look good. We may not have an elite TE, but with the TEs we have, we can go deep into the playoffs once again if we stay healthy.

tm_inter's picture

Richard Rodgers dropped only one pass all year last year whereas Finley was known to have dropped a lot of passes.

It's a matter of trust Aaron Rodgers has toward his receivers. Aaron Rodgers would be naturally inclined to throw more to receivers that he trusts. Following this logic I expect quarterback Rodgers to have more and more trust in receiver Rodgers from this year onwards, knowing that Richard Rodgers is less likely to drop passes than other receivers.

marpag's picture

I'm perfectly willing to admit that RRodgers can improve, and I hope that he does, but until I see it, he is what he is.

From what we have seen so far, neither Finley nor Rodgers have the necessary power, quickness and tenacity to block a guy on facebook, nevermind an NFL playing field. Both have been complete dog piles in the running game.

TEs who can't block are called "fat, slow receivers." So which fat, slow receiver would you rather have - Finley or Rodgers? Is there really a debate? Until this much-anticipated improvement starts to kick in, give me Finley every single time.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Reluctantly agree. But R. Rodgers seems like a good kid who will actually work on his blocking. Actually, Finley wasn't a terrible blocker, though he certainly wasn't good.

Ferrari Driveer's picture

Finley had his negatives ranging from drops, whining, and overestimating his contributions to the team, but what he did bring was a match up problem for the defense which in most cases had to use a least a safety in coverage and his size would on occasion call for someone over the top.

Choosing Nelson or Cobb over him would have been an easy choice for me.

chaka's picture

If Ted would sign a Colt Lyerla he would be the best TE on the roster. 1st round talent sitting at home.

Kevin Frei's picture

Excellent article!!! It would be sweet to have a main TE , but maybe if both can block and catch passes, they can spit snaps.. To have a fresh TE rotating every 2 or 3 snaps would give us a huge advantage!!! This would keep defenses honest and give A-Rodge more control over opposing defenses...

Kevin Frei's picture

BTW, McCarty and Thompson must want Nick Perry to play more this year since we didn't draft a LB early this year... So good luck Nick, I hope u have a solid year!!!

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