Why Jermichael Finley's Risk May Be Worth the Reward
For a while, it appeared Jermichael Finley was poised to take his play to the level of an elite NFL tight end. In 2010, fantasy experts touted Finley as a top-three tight end in the preseason, and were ready to hand him Antonio Gates’ torch as of being the top tight end in fantasy football and perhaps the NFL.
Unfortunately for Finley, a season-ending injury suffered in Week 5 ended his year that season. By the time Finley bounced back in 2011, his production took a backseat to that of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski , who have taken the position by force. Finley was healthy in 2012, but couldn't replicate his 2011 numbers, and in 2013, he suffered a season-ending neck injury that has potential to be career threatening.
It should be noted that he has now been cleared by his own personal doctor to return to the game, but hasn't been cleared by the Packers' doctors yet. Finley is now a free agent, and could possibly be a missing piece for teams vying for the Super Bowl if he can stay healthy. But is he worth the risk, and what should we expect from him in the future?
Here at numberFire, we have numbers that attempt to answer those questions, particularly our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP, in essence, tells us the number of points a player added or lost for his team through his play over a season. A higher, positive NEP means a player helped contribute more points to his team than a lower NEP. This is a great way to shift focus away from a player’s raw stats and look towards how exactly the player helped or hurt his team’s final score and chances to win.
Below is a table displaying Finley's advanced NEP metrics throughout his career. Total NEP marks his points added in terms of both rushing and receiving, while Target NEP shows the number of points the tight end added on all targets. Reception NEP per target is an efficiency metric.
|Season||Total NEP||Total NEP TE rank||Target NEP||Target NEP TE rank||Rec NEP/Target|
*denotes season-ending injury costing him at least 10 games.
After not playing a lot as a rookie, Finley had a significant role in the Packers' offense in 2009. He finished the year 12th in NEP by a tight end, despite missing three games due to injury. His Reception NEP per target was 0.83 for the season, which was the third best by a tight end with 50 or more receptions that year.
An injury cost him most of 2010, but Finley bounced back well in 2011. He finished fifth in Total NEP by a tight end for the season, and third behind only Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates on a per target basis by a tight end with 50 or more receptions.
Finley’s numbers took a dip in 2012, but seemed to be on the right track before the aforementioned Week 7 injury in 2013.
Assuming he can make a full recovery, Finley has proven his value on the field as an above-average tight end. Since entering the league in 2008, Finley has a Total NEP of 239, which is 14th-best at the position. Over this span, his Target NEP - the number of points added on all targets - has been 149, which is good for eighth-best in the position. He's done this despite missing 26 games over the course of his career.
During the two seasons (2011 and 2012) Finley remained healthy, he was seventh in Total NEP, and sixth in terms of Reception NEP per target. A healthy Finley is one of the most efficient tight ends in the NFL.
Ultimately, the question isn’t whether or not Finley can positively impact the game for his team, but it's whether or not he can stay on the field to do so.
The Packers could re-sign Finley, but their moves thus far in the off-season make it seem as if they are ready to head in another direction. They selection of Richard Rogers out of Cal in the third round of the draft, and have plenty of other tight ends fighting for a spot.
If there's a place where he could make the biggest impact, it could be the New England Patriots. The Pats simply know how to utilize their tight ends, and could use someone to play opposite Rob Gronkowski, or as an insurance plan if Gronk suffers another devastating injury. In Gronk’s first three seasons (2010-2012), the Pats led the league in Total NEP by tight ends, thanks to the big-play ability of Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. In other words, the Patriot tight ends over that time helped contribute more points to their team than any other tight end unit.
|Season||Team||Total NEP by TE|
Just how dominant were the Pats tight ends over the three year span? Well, looking at the chart, the group posted three of the top seven NEP seasons at the position since 2000, including two of the top three seasons in 2011 and 2012. Problems arose in 2013 (the unit only finished ninth in total NEP) without Hernandez and with Gronk’s injury, but plugging Finley into the mix would give Tom Brady another weapon, even if he isn’t the quarterback he once was.
What to Expect
Ultimately, Finley should find a team in need of a playmaking tight end, and if healthy, he can improve most teams. He's still a free agent, and there is still some question marks surrounding his health. At this point, he may be looking at a minimum deal for the opportunity to prove himself, and given his history, he's a hard player to pass up.
Through his first six seasons in the league, we’ve seen how effective Finley can be when healthy, though that hasn’t often been the case for him. Still, it's undeniable that he can bring value to his future offense and has the ability to make and impact and help his team win games.