A new Fantasy Football star may have been born in 2009 at the tight end position. Green Bay Packers TE Jermichael Finley had quite a finish to the season; in his final seven games, he had 38 receptions for 416 yards and four touchdowns.
He then took it up another gear and dominated the wild card round against the Arizona Cardinals, notching six receptions for 159 yards and no touchdowns.
Those 159 yards were the second most by a tight end in NFL playoff history, trailing only San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow, who posted 166 yards in a 1981 Divisional Round victory over the Miami Dolphins. With company like that, many fantasy owners are salivating at the possibilities for 2010.
The Packers are one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. QB Aaron Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to tally two consecutive 4,000-yard seasons in his first two years as a starter. Rodgers has the Packers ranked third in scoring since the start of the 2008 season, trailing only the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers.
RB Ryan Grant recorded his second consecutive 1,200-yard season. The only other backs to have back-to-back 1,200-yards in 2008 and 2009 are Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson, New York Jets RB Thomas Jones and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.
Finally, the Packers have two 1,000-yard receivers in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
That type of firepower is an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that Finley is not going to be seeing many double teams. Teams have to respect Grant's ability to run the ball, and they have to respect Jennings' ability to stretch the field and Driver's ability to be a clutch possession receiver. The Packers also have depth in the slot positions with fourth-year receiver James Jones and third-year receiver Jordy Nelson. There are only 11 defenders on the field, and there are just not enough of them to devote more than one defender to Finley.
At 6'4" and 240 lbs., Finley is big and physical but can also stretch the field with his speed. It is tough to cover him with a linebacker because of his speed, but it is difficult to cover him with a safety because of his size. Factor in the talent around him, and it is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
The disadvantage is that it is easy for the Packers to forget to give him the ball. Against a Detroit Lions team that ranked 30th against the tight end, he logged only three catches for 25 yards and no touchdowns in a Thanksgiving Day clash. Rodgers threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns, and the Packers put up 34 points.
They do not need Finley to move the ball. That is different from guys like Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten, San Francisco 49er Vernon Davis or San Diego Charger Antonio Gates. If those teams do not involve their star tight ends, they struggle to move the ball or score points.
Adding to the problem is that Finley is not the world's strongest blocker, which is a problem for a tight end. If he is going to be an every down player, he needs to improve in that area. The less he is on the field, the fewer opportunities for the Packers to throw him the ball, and the easier it is to forget about him.
The other concern with Finley is injuries. He did not play much in 2008 due to a poor attitude and poor conditioning. He really turned that around in 2009 and showed a lot more maturity and toughness. He went from being the team's No. 2 tight end at the beginning of the season to a player that started 10 games.
I do not worry about his attitude regressing, but the problem is that he missed three games with a knee injury that he suffered early in the Cleveland game and missed four starts overall. Seeing he has only been in the NFL for two seasons, we do not know if that is a one-time issue or a trend. As Fantasy Owners, we all know about the perpetually injured paper superstars.
I think Finley will stay relatively healthy, and I think he will have an even better year than 2008, but I do not think Finley will warrant top five status. I currently have him ranked seventh among tight ends, meaning he is an average No. 1 tight end in 10-team leagues, not an elite one. I think in dynasty or keeper leagues he has a little more value, although in leagues that have limits on keepers, rarely are owners going to hold on to a tight end.
I think Finley is going to notch between 750 to 850 yards and six to eight touchdowns in 2010, which is comparable to what Tony Gonzalez did in 2009. He is going to make owners happy, but it also means that Finley should be going in the sixth to eighth round. It makes a lot of sense to take him later and use your early picks to stockpile running backs and receivers. Inexperienced owners will take bigger name tight ends in that spot, giving owners who did their homework a bargain.
If you take Finley in the late third round or early fourth round expecting the top-scoring tight end in fantasy football, I think you will be disappointed. You are not going to get the bang for your buck at the tight end spot that you are hoping for, and it will leave you short at running back or wide receiver.
The Packers have so many good weapons that I do not think Finley is going to be able to dominate the tight end position like some of the other players that are the centerpiece of their teams' passing offenses.
By Derek Lofland, analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs