Leader of the Pack
Jermichael Finley: When Finley's good, he's really good. In 2009, he was one of the league's dominant tight ends during the second half of the season. In 2010, there was no tight end better in the first four games.
Even last season, he scored three touchdowns at Chicago — joining Keith Jackson as the only tight ends in franchise history to accomplish that feat. He was tremendous in the regular-season win at New York, with a touchdown and a 24-yard catch and run that jump-started the winning drive. He caught seven passes in the regular-season finale against Detroit, including the winning touchdown.
Finley, however, can be a cause for frustration because he doesn't consistently play to that level. His 12 drops led the league's tight ends, and his drop rate was third-worst behind Lance Kendricks and Dallas Clark, according to ProFootballFocus.com. For such an athletic target, he offers surprisingly little after the catch with 11 missed tackles over the last three seasons — New England's Aaron Hernandez had 23 last season alone.
Given the depth of the receiver corps, Finley probably will never match Jimmy Graham's 99 catches or Rob Gronkowski's 90 catches. However, if he can be as efficient as he was to start 2010, when he caught all 21 catchable passes, the Packers would be thrilled and Finley would be in line for a big-money contract when his two-year deal is up after 2013.
"The next step is take my game to the next level," he said. "Play fast, not count my steps, not worrying about how the defense is playing me or what the defense is doing and just do me. If I do me, it can take my game to the next level."
D.J. Williams: Williams, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end as a senior at Arkansas in 2010, was almost a total nonfactor as a fifth-round pick last year. Playing only 104 snaps on offense, he caught just two passes for 13 yards and allowed a sack. He wasn't much of a factor on special teams, either, with two tackles.
Still, the Packers envision Williams being the Packers' version of Hernandez — they're both about 6-foot-2— while Finley plays the role of Gronkowski in giving the Packers a Patriots-like one-two punch at tight end.
"D.J.'s ... fluid running routes (and) in tune with certain intricacies of the pass game," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "He's a smooth player, (I) like D.J. a lot. He's kind of multifunctional. (The coaches will be) giving him as much exposure as we can to the many different things a tight end has to do within the system to find out what suits him the best."
Ryan Taylor: A seventh-round pick last year, Taylor was drafted mostly because of his special-teams prowess at North Carolina. He made an impact there as the Packers ended a three-year run near the bottom of the Dallas Morning News' special-teams rankings by moving up to 13th. He had 10 tackles and made key blocks for Randall Cobb in back-to-back games against Minnesota (80-yard touchdown) and Tampa Bay (55 yards).
Offensively, Taylor played just 26 snaps. His first career play from scrimmage resulted in Taylor's 4-yard touchdown catch against Oakland. One of his big supporters is Aaron Rodgers, who likes Taylor's effort and feel for the receiving game.
"He's a kid that has a lot of talent and he plays fast," Fontenot said. "That's one thing about Ryan: I'm always on the field telling him to remember to breathe, because he's almost holding his breath as he's running down the field. He's giving it everything he's got. You love to see that in a kid, that enthusiasm."
On the bubble
Andrew Quarless: Quarless sustained a torn ACL and MCL at New York on Dec. 4. Given how late in the season he was hurt, it's hard to imagine Quarless being ready for the start of training camp. The guess is he starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. He'd be eligible to start practicing again after Week 6, with the team having a three-week window before adding him to the roster or shutting him down for the year.
Before the injury, assistant coach Ben McAdoo said Quarless was developing into a "complete" tight end who was challenging Tom Crabtree as the unit's best blocker. So, even with just three catches last season, he'd be a big loss.
5.0: According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley dropped 12 of 67 catchable passes last season, a drop rate of 17.9 percent. However, he dropped a combined four of 80 catchable balls in 2009 and 2010, a drop rate of 5.0 percent. In 2010, he caught 21 of 25 total passes. his 84.0 percent catch rate leading all tight ends with at least 20 receptions.
Extra pointCoach Mike McCarthy loves the versatility of the group, whether it's Finley's receiving ability or Quarless and Crabtree as blockers. Last season, the Packers averaged 68.0 plays per game on offense. The tight ends averaged 92.1 snaps per game — seventh-most in the league — while the running backs had just 81.1. Finley's 883 snaps were the most by any skill player on the team other than Rodgers.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.