A few seasons ago it seemed that Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley seemed destined for super stardom. Back in 2009, Finley’s second season in the NFL, the mercurial talent started to show his immense potential and Packer fans started dreaming big.
After catching just six passes in his rookie season in 2008, the former University of Texas star caught 55 passes for 676 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games. Then in the 2009 playoffs against the Arizona Cardinals, Finley flashed his rare ability, hauling in six passes for 159 yards in one of the greatest pass-catching performances by a tight end in postseason history. It was that game above all others that led us all to believe a star was born.
In 2010, the Packers seemed to recognize their young tight end’s tremendous talent and made him a focal point of the offense early in 2010. In five games Finley caught 21 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. He seemed unstoppable and was on pace for nearly 1,000 yards receiving before a knee injury against the Washington Redskins in week 5 ended his promising season.
The Packers as the team rallied without Finley and numerous other walking wounded to capture a Super Bowl Championship that season, yet the injury caused the Packers to shit their offensive focus back to wide receivers such as Greg Jennings and consequently, it seemed to put a cap on Finley’s rapid ascent.
The emergence of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb also reduced the number of targets available for the former third round pick but a bad case of the drops also had to do with the dip in his effectiveness. Yet, even when battling the drops in 2011, he still managed to haul in 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns, so before the 2012 season Green Bay signed Finley to a new, two-year contract.
Yet, with his new contract in hand, the 2012 season got off to a rough start for Finley. In his first nine games of the season, he caught just 29 passes for 280 yards and scored just one touchdown. Things were so bad that rumors began circulating that Green Bay was set to move on following the season. Then, suddenly, the light came on.
Over the final seven games, Finley caught 32 passes for 387 yards and a touchdown. He also had at least 50 yards receiving in six of those final seven games after eclipsing that mark just twice in the previous nine games. His yards per game average increased from 31.1 in the first nine games of the season to 55.7 down the stretch.
It’s true that I have touted Finley as a breakout player for a few seasons now but if he can continue to play that way he did down the stretch in 2012, that prediction should finally become a reality in 2013. A big part of that reasoning is tied to the fact that Jennings, the Packers former no.1 wide receiver is now a Minnesota Viking.
There has been plenty of talk about how to replace Jennings production in the Packers offense and the general consensus is that Nelson, Cobb and James Jones will do just fine.
Yet, the player that could benefit the most from Jennings departure is Finley. After all, he has proven he can do great things when split wide or in the slot, something the Packers have done less and less of the past two seasons. He can also finally garner a bigger role once again in the offense that mirrors the 2010 season more than 2011 or 2012.
If that happens, there’s no reason why Finley can’t become a true impact player. He has the skills and the ability to be an matchup nightmare, more so than any Packer outside of Cobb. With increased opportunities and a bigger role in the offense due to Jennings departure as well as an expiring contract for motivation, he should finally be poised for a true breakout season in 2013.