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Packers Still Not Over Jermichael Finley

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Packers Still Not Over Jermichael Finley

Those looking for causes for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ lack of success in the passing game this past season had many culprits at which to point fingers.  Injuries to key personnel, lack of perimeter wide receiver speed, inability to separate from tight coverage and play-calling certainly all came into play.  Yet aside from the loss of Jordy Nelson it has been the Packers inability to adequately replace tight end Jermichael Finley that may have contributed more than any other single factor.

Since the Packers lost Finley to a neck injury almost three years ago their production from the tight end position has varied between adequate and poor. After the Packers lost their best receiver in Jordy Nelson, his absence exposed major weaknesses in the wide receiver grouping.  Inadequate targets for Aaron Rodgers when protection broke down was a major factor for a stalled passing attack.  As the season wore on it became abundantly clear that general manager Ted Thompson had failed to give Rodgers the one weapon he needed to so desperately to succeed – a quality tight end.

In judging just how important the tight end position is in today’s game one needs to go no further than this year’s Super Bowl participants - the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.  Greg Olson of the Panthers and former Wisconsin Badger Owen Daniels of the Broncos were crucial this season when it came to powering their respective offenses. 

Olson was particularly productive for the mighty Panthers offense where he graded out as the league’s fifth best tight end according to the statistics furnished by ProFootball Focus.  His 97.1 rating in the receiving game was number one in the league, far ahead of Richard Rodgers 79.6 score.  Olson’s 1104 receiving yards were more than double Rodgers’ 510 but were comparable to Daniels 517.

Where the comparisons are particularly telling is in average yards per reception.  Olson averaged 14.3 YPC for Carolina and Daniels turned in a respectable 11.2.  For the Packers’ Rodgers his 8.8 YPC did not even rank in the top 50 of all NFL tight ends.  His 31.9 YPG ranked a pedestrian 24th. When the Packers needed a big play, other than in Detroit, they found Rodgers lacking.

In Finley the Packers had a playmaker defenses had to respect. While in a Packers uniform Finley averaged 12.2 yards per catch during the regular season and a gaudy 16.1 YPC in the playoffs.

Candidly it is unfair and unrealistic to expect Rodgers to morph into Jermichael Finley.  They are very different players and used in different manners.  But where the statistical comparisons are relevant is what Finley brought to the position vs. what the team possesses now.

The Packers don’t necessarily require an all-world tight end such as the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski or even the steady Greg Olson to thrive. Yet in order for the Packers offense to prosper, they will need more production from Richard Rodgers or for Thompson to acquire another playmaking tight end in the draft or free agency.

If help is to come from outside the ranks its caveat emptor –“buyer beware".

In unrestricted free agency – something Packers General Manager Ted Thompson abhors – notable tight ends are Antonio Gates (age 35, SD), Coby Fleener (age 27, IND), Jermaine Gresham (age 26, Arizona), Tony Moeaki (age 28, Atlanta) and Vernon Davis (age 29, Denver). 

Another interesting free agent would have been Gary Barnidge who at 31 years of age had a breakout season for the Cleveland Browns.  His 79 receptions (5th best) netted 1,043 yards (4th best), a 13.2 yards per catch average and nine touchdowns.  What especially made Barnidge intriguing is that his position coach in Cleveland, Brian Angelichio, was recently hired by Mike McCarthy for the same job in Green Bay. Unfortunately, the Brown extended His contract aand he will be staying there.

In the college draft Hunter Henry of Arkansas is the only tight end likely to earn a first round grade.  However the 6’ 6”, 255 lb. prospect is known more for his blocking than his receiving, something that Arkansas didn’t take advantage of during his tenure there. There are many draft experts however who project him to become effective in the pro game.  After Henry, O.J. Austin Hooper of Stanford and Nick Vannett of Ohio State round out the top tier of tight ends and are thought to be day two selections.  None however project future star-power in the NFL.

Further clouding the position, fellow Packers tight ends Justin Perillo (RFA) and Andrew Quarless (UFA) are set to hit free agency themselves.  Coupled with huge question marks in rookies Kennard Backman – a non-entity in 2015 – and practice squad player Mitchell Henry, it will be incumbent for Thompson to somehow create an upgrade to the position for the 2016 season.  With little to work with behind Rodgers, new blood will need to arrive to bolster the Packers offense.

In what was perhaps a thinly-veiled plea to his boss, head coach Mike McCarthy was recently quoted as saying, "Philosophically, to have a successful passing game, you have to have big targets that can turn in the middle of the field, whether it's a tight end or a big wide receiver."

Well put coach.

Whatever the solution it will now be up to Ted Thompson to ensure that the cupboard is not bare again for Aaron Rodgers in the upcoming season.  Acquiring a play-making tight end should be at or near the top of his off-season list.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (53) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

RRod looked like he might turn into Bubba Franks or even Mark Chmura last year. This year? He looked like...well... not an NFL caliber player.

I would be very pleased if TT did anything with the TE position this year that could help immediately. (Read: Free Agency)

I would also be shocked. Surprise me TT.

Travis_Jervey's picture

Barnidge was extended in December. Howard is going back to Bama.

Jersey Al's picture

Correct on both points. fixed.

sheppercheeser's picture

Jermichael had hands of stone. I don't miss him.

Packer_Pete's picture

bummer, you changed your avatar...

Packer_Pete's picture

Please... I really do not understand how Finley constantly comes up. Reputation yes, maybe opposing DCs needed to respect him. Production? Not even close to his reputation...
His best season when he played all games was 2011. He had 8 TDs. Guess what, RRod had 8 TDs this season...
His first 2 seasons in the NFL, Finley played in 27 games and had a total of 6 TDs. Over all his 6 seasons, Finley had a total of 20 TDs, he was injured often, and he dropped a lot of balls. He was purely a receiving TE. For that, his stats or production on the field are remarkably mediocre at best.

After playing 2 seasons, RRod has played in every game, already has a total of 10 TDs, is hardly ever injured, and has hardly dropped any pass. When used properly, Rodgers could be a great asset even as a receiving TE. The 1 yard passes into the flat, hoping he will break a couple of tackles and turn the play into a 1st down by making 6 YACs is unrealistic. with a better TE coach he will also improve his route running.

Given that Finley was also constantly behaving like a drama queen or better petulant little child, while Rodgers does not, I can really say with great conviction that I'd take Rodgers any day over Finley, and twice on NFL gamedays...

Bearmeat's picture

Finley comes up because he scared teams with HWS down the middle of the field - which changed the way defenses played us. His potential was astronomical, and IMO he was finally starting to live up to that potential when his career was cut short by the neck injury.

RRod can't catch the ball, break a tackle, and run 50 yards for a TD. That kind of athleticism for any player inside the numbers really lightens the load on all the other skill players.

While we didn't miss Finley in 2013-14, we sure did this year when Cobb and Jordy couldn't wreak havoc via their own 1/2 punch.

Tundraboy's picture

Agree. The mere threat was better than no threat at all!!!

Sportspack's picture

Completely agree with Packer_Pete, Finley never lived up to his expectations.
Richard Rogers is a completely different type of T.E., obviously he is not a deep threat(neither were the Packers wide receivers that they trotted out there every week) so he needs to be used more as a possession type player. He has proven to have outstanding hands and has been a reliable clutch player. That does not mean that there is no room for another type of tight end on the roster, a big play guy with outstanding speed would be a great addition for 2 tight end sets and various situations.

Tundraboy's picture

Oh there's plenty of room for a TE on the roster, we basically have only RRodgers.

RCPackerFan's picture

I have brought up all year that the Packers were trying to use Rodgers like they used Finley. The difference is that Rodgers doesn't have Finley's athleticism. Finley was able to take that 3 yard out pass into a 20 yard gain. Whereas Rodgers almost always got tackled where he caught the ball.
The Packers offense really is missing that ability from the position. A player that can make defenders miss, break tackles and gain yards after the catch.

The other thing is they need to adjust their offense to use the players they do have. Use Rodgers to his strengths. He showed in the Detroit game he is actually good going over the middle of the field. They really need to use him more in that traditional type of way.

As far as TEs to go after in Free Agency I would like to see them go after Antonio Gates or Ladarius Green. Both would add a pass catching option they don't have.

For the draft I like Henry, Vannett and possibly my favorite is Jerrel Adams. He reminds me of Finley. He wouldn't have to come in to be a starter, but could come in and be the pass catcher we are lacking.

dobber's picture

I like the potential versatility of Vannett and Adams is intriguing but I fear he has "bust" written all over him. I like Jake McGee from Florida as a late round sleeper, good size, more of a receiver than blocker, but that can develop.

RCPackerFan's picture

I mean, in all honesty just about every player has the potential to be a bust.

I think if Adams got into Green Bay's system and they used him in ways they used Finley, he wouldn't be a bust.

Adams will likely go in the 2nd - 4th round area. Vannett will likely be in the same area.

This draft would have looked so much better at TE if some of the Juniors had come out.

Horse's picture

"Unrestricted free agency – something Packers General Manager Ted Thompson abhors" is a meme that needs to die.
Julius Peppers
Letroy Guion
3 others last season
What TT abhors is not getting comp picks after his own FAs get away. As a result he gets 9 picks this season. Even though comp picks can't be traded till 2017, the extra picks create flexibility to trade draft picks to move around in the draft. And sometimes comp picks just work out, like Josh Sitton.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Who are these 3 FAs signed by TT last year?
JJ: for vet min after injury forced TT's hand;
Lovato, for minimal amount after injury forced TT's hand;
Joe Thomas, for a minimal amount after injury forced TT's hand.

Give me a break.

Hematite's picture

The Packers are more in need of quality than quantity.
Unfortunately Thompson loves quantity in hopes of finding that diamond in the rough.
While Thompson is looking the other way the window on Aaron Rodgers career is closing.

D Ernesto's picture

They costs money ted doesnt want to spend

4thand10's picture

The way I see it....we have plenty of slot WR's. One more Big down the field WR who commands double coverage would make RR look like a star or even Quarless for that matter. Nelson is awesome, but is 30 and no guarantee 100% recovery. I've seen all I want to see out of Adams. With comp picks and all this year I say shoot for the stars with a WR pick

Tundraboy's picture

Preaching to the choir!!!

wolfie's picture

I'm no expert but I am wondering if they can switch Janis to TE. He's 6'3 and can catch in traffic.

dobber's picture

He wouldn't play in-line because he couldn't take the beating. He'd be split out or playing out of the which case he's not a TE, he's still a WR. Like I've said before: it doesn't matter who your pass catchers are or what position they play, as long as you have pass catchers.

Tundraboy's picture

Another year, another debate over the obvious, we need a good all around tight end. Doesn't have to be a great one just a very good one. It is the dimension we have lacked for a long time, and now more than ever. I don't think I can watch another year of RRodgers and a bunch of stiffs.

DrealynWilliams's picture

" we need a good all around tight end. Doesn't have to be a great one just a very good one"

If only it was easy to do...

Tundraboy's picture

I'd take a shot on Gates and I know Wolf would have as well.

Rossonero's picture

I hate to say it, but I could see the Steelers picking Hunter Henry just before us. The Ravens took Maxx Williams last season because they knew Heath Miller would turn 33 and the Steelers were interested.

Williams was reportedly a little too cocky and that turned some teams off. He only had 32 catches for 268 yards and one TD. Now Miller will be 34 in October, so the Steelers know they need to find his replacement.

I'm leery of FA TEs too. Gates is old as hell, Ladarius Green has been nothing but hype, Vernon Davis didn't do shit in Denver. Same goes for Gresham in AZ. only guy I like is Owen Daniels.

RCPackerFan's picture

I could see the Steelers taking Henry as well. It would make a lot of sense.

Gates would be a 1-2 year fill in.

Green was drafted to replace Gates. Green has great size and speed. He is exactly what Green Bay needs at the position. He wouldn't have to be a #1 TE in Green Bay.

For a backup TE Green has pretty good stats. He has averaged 14.1 yards per catch in his career. Compare that to Richard Rodgers who has averaged 9.4 yards per catch. He would add something to Green Bays offense.

Bearmeat's picture

I have to disagree RC. Green has been a TON of hype but the folks in SD are mad at him constantly. He's very unreliable detail wise - which is why he hasn't been prominently featured in a 2 TE attack. Throwing a ton of money at Green wouldn't be wise.

Now, Allen/Fleener from the Colts on the other hand HAVE been detail oriented. They've played well, and the Colts can't afford both. Neither have the HOF upside that Green does, but their floor is higher too. I'll take the safe pick.

Which of course means TT will do none of the above.

RCPackerFan's picture

I didn't say they would throw a ton of money at him. Just saying I think he could be a good fit in Green Bay.

The way I look at it, just about anyone they could pick up will be an upgrade over what they have/had with their backups.

And I agree, I don't see them doing anything. The most likely move will be in the draft.

dobber's picture

"He wouldn't have to be a #1 TE in Green Bay."

For what they will likely have to pay to get him, and compared to what they're paying the other TE on the roster, he would have to be the #1 TE or he's a waste of resources.

Bearmeat's picture

Exactly. Someone will throw stupid money at a HWS TE in the first week of FA - and it won't (thankfully) be TT

RCPackerFan's picture

In all honesty. I don't know how much he will actually cost.

I'm just saying, if the price is right I go after him.

Bearmeat's picture

IF is a very iffy word here RC. His HWS is going to have some GM and HC combo thinking he can be the one to turn the guys career around. Out of control egos are rampant at the highest level in any field and the NFL is no different. Someone will pay out the nose.

EdsLaces's picture

Gresham and Fleener sound pretty tempting...

Oppy's picture

Well, yes, everyone should want an upgrade at the TE position, but the Packers didn't have an adequate replacement for Finley in 2014, but the Packers offense went ahead and became the #6 offense total yards, #1 PPG offense in the league that season. Also without Finley since week 5 in 2013, they were #3 Total offense, #8 PPG.

We could also mention that the Super Bowl run in 2010 was largely Finley-free as well, when they were #9 total, #10 scoring offense.

Yes, this year when injuries and other problems left the Packers with few-to-none other options, having a better TE could have potentially been a difference maker. However, the Packers have shown with this system they don't RELY on that game-changer TE to move the ball effectively, and score plenty of points.

Would it be a welcome addition to the roster? Yes. Does the data suggest the lack of a elite talent at TE has stifled ROdgers or the Packers' overall offensive output? I'm not sure it does.

dobber's picture

NO! NOT DATA!!! ;)

dobber's picture

"Would it be a welcome addition to the roster? Yes. Does the data suggest the lack of a elite talent at TE has stifled ROdgers or the Packers' overall offensive output? I'm not sure it does."

On the more serious side, this is a great summation of your argument, and I couldn't agree more.

Packer_Pete's picture

you nailed it Oppy. Especially on the part that without Finley, the Packers still were an elite Offense.

And I maintain, the year they won the SB the O was better without Finley, plain and simple.

Elite talent at any position helps. At the same time, it also helps to get the max out of players, regardless of whether they are elite or not, and to put them in position to be successful. Throwing a 2 yard pass into the flat to RRod and expecting him to break a couple of tackles or outrun defenders to gain another 8 yards to make the 1st is not realistic and does not play to his strength.

dobber's picture

An FA TE isn't worth what they'd pay him. Anyone who has a good, productive TE is going to have that guy locked up.

There's a reason why these FAs are on the market...guys like Gates and Davis are aging and losing their wheels. Gates has been productive recently, but in an offense that throws the ball 45+ times per game and when Keenan Allen got hurt...who else was there to catch the ball? If you throw him the $$, how many balls is he going to catch in the Packers O?

Fleener and Allen are intriguing but their combination of youth and what they've flashed in the Colts offense means they'll be overpaid. There's a reason why younger guys like this are on the market, too. Allen has a hard time staying on the field. You can look at athletic guys who haven't had a chance to a Rob Housler from last year, but what did he do when he moved on from the Cards? Jack nothing.

In the end, there are only so many footballs to go around. If you're paying two "elite" WR (Nelson and Cobb), and have significant resources tied up in backups (Adams and Montgomery are high picks), you need to let those guys play out and invest your money elsewhere. It's a zero-sum game, and every dollar you throw at one guy is a dollar you can't throw at someone else. Shore up the LBs and DL first and draft a TE if you decide you have to have one.

sub_zero_pr's picture

We have our big WR. He got hurt in the 6th game and the season went downhill from there. Ty Montgomery is a big WR and he will only get better. Love the combo of Nelson, Cobb, Ty, Adams, Janis and Abby. Thats our WR corp.

Since '61's picture

To me this discussion about the TE position highlights the fact that for all the talent this team allegedly has it's not really the case. Obviously, we need a better TE than any currently on the roster. So my conclusion is that we don't have much talent at the TE position. Looking at WR, 2015 pretty much proved that we don't have much talent behind Jordy Nelson. Adams, drops too many passes and doesn't get separation. J. Jones, reliable hands but also can't get separation. Janis, great speed but poor route running and questionable hands. Slot receivers, thanks to Cobb probably our most talented position group after AR at QB. Montgomery hopefully will develop but time will tell. Abbrederis has looked good in his limited appearances but his history of injuries is a concern. Lacy has turned RB into a question mark with his lackadaisical approach to conditioning and poor judgment. Starks occasional glimpses of ability. Basically, after A. Rodgers, Jordy Nelson if healthy and Cobb, my question is, where is all the talent or maybe what happened to all the talent we were fed by the Packer propaganda? My conclusion is that we need better players at TE and WR behind Jordy. As for TE sign Gates and wait for next season when better TEs come out in the draft. We should draft an RB in case Lacy gains more weight in the off season. ;Thanks, Since '61

RCPackerFan's picture

'As for TE sign Gates and wait for next season when better TEs come out in the draft.'

That is the exact reason why I would sign Gates. Sign him to a 2-3 year deal, then next year draft a TE from a much improved TE group.

Gates could come in and be the field stretching TE we have been lacking. We wouldn't need him to be a full time player because we do have Rodgers, and we have good WR's. But he would provide a huge upgrade at TE.

Bearmeat's picture

Wow. There aren't many days that I disagree with you this often. Weird.

Anyway - Gates is not a field stretching TE anymore. Dude has chronic plantar fascia. He can't outrun anyone anymore. He's still a great RZ and 3rd down target - but not a seam runner. Look at his yards per target last year. Better than RRod, but nowhere near Allen or Fleener or Barnidge.

RCPackerFan's picture

lol. weird tuesday I guess...

I didn't see Gates the whole season. I just saw him in a couple of games, and he appeared to still be able to stretch the seem.

I would be happy if they went after Fleener or Allen (Barnidge got resigned). I'm just assuming they will cost more then what Thompson is willing to spend.
The reason why I like Gates is I think he can help for 1-2 years. Draft a better TE next year, and will be set.

This being said, I would love to see them draft a TE this year. A guy like Jerell Adams. Something about him reminds me of Finley. Has size and speed, and could be a perfect compliment to Rodgers.

Since '61's picture

Bearmeat - I agree that Gates is not what he used to be, but he is still enough to make the defense pay attention to him. Also, because of his age and his loss of a step or two we should be able to sign him at a much more reasonable price than Allen, Fleener, or Barnidge. Gates provides an immediate improvement to our TE position and allows us to wait until better TEs are available in the draft without blowing up the cap to improve the position. If the price for Gates is reasonable I say get him. If he wants tons of money at this stage of his career then don't bother. Green Bay also gives him a solid chance at an SB than San Diego or most other NFL teams if that matters to him. Thanks, Since '61

Tundraboy's picture

Since 61, Totally agree, our WR group is not what it once was. People cite that we won without Finley, but our WRs then we're deeper and more battled tested with Jennings and Driver . We need a TE. Too much sideline passing and not enough over the middle. With run game off from the year before we are even more one dimensional. A healthy Ty and TE threat would change all that.

Sportspack's picture

So where do you guys draft tight ends in your fantasy leagues? If a player isn't relevant in fantasy, he isn't relevant in real life. Oppy is correct in his assessment of the true impact of pass catching tight ends. Unless you get a guy like Gronkowski or like Graham was in New Orleans, this is not the position to get all bent out of shape about.

Oppy's picture

Hold on a second.

No disrespect, but I politely disagree with both your points above.

First, you can not say a player that isn't relevant in fantasy isn't relevant in real life. Football is oversimplified in fantasy to nothing but yards and points. On any given play that your fantasy pick gains a single yard or scores, there's 10 players on the turf that were required to make that happen. There are players on EVERY team who don't show up much on the stat line but the coaches and the players on the team will tell you he's a lynch pin of their success.

Second, I did not make an assessment of the 'true impact of pass catching tight ends.' I made an evaluation on the ability of the PACKERS' offense to operate at a high level without a beast TE.

Whether or not a TE is a pass catching machine like Gronk or Graham with huge output, the thing that makes these types of TE's so valuable (this goes back to my comments on fantasy players) is their body type and athleticism. It's a matchup decision for the defense- do they stick with a linebacker or plug in a DB? Do you use the TE to block or send him out on routes? When an offense has balance, and a TE that is big enough to block but fast enough to warrant a DB in coverage, a team has created a situation where the defense has to pick its poison from a personnel standpoint, and the offense can exploit that decision via play calling.

Might not ever show up on the stat sheet, but the presence can certainly help the offense regardless.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Well said, Oppy. The purpose of a TE is to be a dual threat- able to block DEs or guys at the 2nd level on running plays, chip and run a route, or just run a route, or stay in on pass pro. If a team has a TE who can do these things even reasonably well, it forces most teams to pick its poison by having to decide whether to remove a LB in favor of a DB before the defender knows whether we'll run or pass.

chaka's picture

Packers need to re-sign Colt Lyerla if they want a real TE.

4thand1's picture

The viqueens heard the Packers were interested and signed him.

D Ernesto's picture

Keep in mind ted drafted rogers so he must be good

Shavager's picture

Hate to break the bad news but Joe Montana and the west coast offense NEVER required a Gronk or Graham type TE to win all those SB's--it required a great short pass game and very good run game that opened up the long ball with Rice and Taylor. IF McCarthy runs the 'west coast' as he claims--this offense needs a good hands TE especially in 3rd down situations. Finley never lived up to his potential, was never that dependable--I've seen him drop uncontested TD passes and critical 3rd down conversions. When GB won the 2010 SB--they did so without Finley and he was never missed. They haven't had Finley type talent since--do you really think a Finley, Gronk or Graham TE would've made the difference in playoff blowouts vs. Giants and Niners in '11 and '12? Do you really think he would've affected the loss in '13, '14 and '15? NO DEFENSE, OR LACK OF IT HAS EFFECTIVELY BEEN THE ACHILLES HEEL EVERY PLAYOFF YEAR. In 2014 the "D" in the 4th quarter and this season's 4th quarter defense have exclusively been responsible for losing in OT. A TE of that caliber would be great but teams have been winning SB's without'em for years.

LeagueObsrvr's picture

Didn't the Packers give Jermaine Gresham a serious look in free agency before he decided to sign with Arizona??? I wonder if they would give him another look this time around...

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