Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley is the most scrutinized player on the entire Packers roster.
Over the past few seasons, Packer fans have frequently jumped on the oft-criticized Finley for his off-the-field comments and on-field performance.
Believe it or not, Finley's first season at Green Bay was in 2008, the same season Aaron Rodgers took over as a full-time starter. Despite 2012 being Finley's fifth season as a pro, he is just 25 years old, a little over three years younger than Rodgers.
Back in February, the Packers signed Finley to a two-year, $14 million contract after becoming a free agent following the 2011 season. The deal came a little over a month after Finley had some crucial drops in Green Bay's stunning 37-20 playoff loss to the New York Giants.
This year, Finley already has four drops through the first six games, and is currently nursing an injured shoulder, playing only 24 snaps against the Houston Texans as a result.
Finley is fourth on the team in receiving yards (210), tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (one) and third in receptions (24). Expected to be more of a red zone threat, his touchdown total is slightly concerning. Last year, Finley ranked third among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions.
As much as he has scuffled, it is what Finley—as well as his agent—have said through various forms of media that irk fans as well.
Most recently, Finley made headlines questioning his chemistry with Rodgers (via Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Post-Gazette):
“I need the quarterback on my side, and I need to catch the ball when he throws it to me,” Finley said. “It takes two things to get that going. So the chemistry, I feel like we need to get that going.”
Does such a statement deserve to make headlines? Probably not, but with so many eyes focused on the Packers after their 2-3 start, Finley probably should have known saying this would draw some unwanted attention.
His heart was in the right place, as he admitted he needed to catch the ball more, but his head was not, as he should have omitted the "it takes two" portion of his quote.
However, the point many missed was how everything he said is true. Finley often gets criticized for speaking his mind, but the fact of the matter is that Rodgers has been missing Finley here and there when he finds himself open.
Of course, that fact is overlooked with Rodgers erupting for six touchdowns Sunday night.
And yet, it was offensive linemen T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton who received praise for voicing their opinion on the matter—not Finley. So is it only Finley who has strayed from "The Packer Way?"
You can still argue that Finley drops too many passes when Rodgers decides to turn to him, because it's true. But Jordy Nelson (5) and Randall Cobb (4) have dropped just as many passes as the 6'5" tight end (via the Washington Post).
Nelson has 12 more targets than Finley, and Cobb has actually been targeted one fewer time than Finley, so it's fair to say that these three share similar blame for dropping the pigskin.
Finley is only 25—11 years younger than Tony Gonzalez. If you take away his first season of sporadic play and the season in which he suffered a torn ACL, Finley is only in his third full season.
Yes, Finley has said some things in the past that have drawn negative reaction, but like his statement about chemistry with Rodgers, they are usually overblown and dissected in correlation with his on-field performance, whether that's fair or unfair.
And if you happened to take a look at Finley's Twitter as of late, he hasn't tweeted since Oct. 7, perhaps showing he is focused on recovering from his injury and the season ahead. Finley clearly wants to be out there and to even play half the offensive snaps against the Texans was a testament to his fortitude.
Aside from his toughness, what Finley doesn't get enough credit for is his improved blocking over the years and his ability to attract defenders away from Green Bay's other receivers. As a tight end, Finley is also required to stay in and block (or chip), and that part of his game needs to be taken into account when assessing Finley's performance.
Let's face it. We have seen flashes of brilliance from Finley, and despite the setbacks he has suffered, it's about time for him to put it all together and live up to the potential that has excited Packer fans for years.
He was off to a blistering start in 2010 before the devastating season-ending injury at Washington, not to mention how he was coming off a breakout season capped by a 159-yard receiving performance in the playoffs against Arizona.
People want to see more of that Jermichael Finley, when he was making headlines for his play and not his mouth.
In due time, let's hope they do once again.
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