Positional Review: Tight Ends

We look back at the season with our featured performer, depth chart, unit grade and look ahead to 2013. The star player was Jermichael Finley. Extrapolate his final seven games over the full 16-game haul, and he would have finished in the top five among tight ends in four vital categories.

Packer Report continues a position-by-position review of the 2012 season with the tight ends.

Featured performer

As a whole, Jermichael Finley's fifth season was so-so.

Split in half, Finley had a bad first half and was terrific in the second half. In the process, Finley perhaps saved his Green Bay Packers career.

"I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player, from the bye week on," coach Mike McCarthy said after the season. "I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year. There was a change in that young man."

The production certainly changed after the bye, as illustrated by ProFootballFocus.com. In the first nine games, he caught 29-of-45 targeted passes for 271 yards with seven drops. In the final seven games, he caught 32-of-40 passes for 396 yards with two drops.

"I think confidence has a lot to do with it," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "The injury that he suffered during the 2010 season was debilitating in many ways. I think he had to re-establish confidence in his body, just to be sure it was going to respond the way he wanted it to. Hitters have slumps, too, for lack of a better term is the best analogy I can come up with."

Finley did more than catch the ball. According to data from ProFootballFocus.com, Finley had 99 yards after the catch in the first nine games, an average of 3.4 YAC per catch. He forced two missed tackles. In the final seven games, he had 199 yards after the catch, averaged 6.2 YAC per catch, and forced five missed tackles.

If Finley could parlay his second-half production over the course of a full season, he would be an elite performer. Among tight ends with at least 40 receptions, his catch percentage of 80.0 would have led the league. His YAC per catch would have ranked second behind Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham. He would have finished with 63 receptions for 905 yards, which would have ranked fifth in catches and fourth in yards.

Rest of the depth chart

This group is about grit, though it's interesting to recall the seasons put together by Tom Crabtree and D.J. Williams. Crabtree, the unit's tough guy, had the team's longest touchdown reception (72 yards) and led the position group in touchdowns (three). In 14 games, Crabtree caught eight passes for 203 yards with one drop.

Williams, who was drafted in large part because of his receiving production at Arkansas, became a reliable blocker. He caught seven passes for 57 yards in 12 games. He had three drops. Fontenot took exception to the notion that Williams had a disappointing season after turning in a promising training camp.

"I don't know that he really went anywhere because he's the same kid that I always thought he was," Fontenot said. "He's an efficient route-runner. I don't know that he's necessarily a deep threat but the kid has sure hands. We utilized him as best we saw fit."

Ryan Taylor played in 16 games, catching one pass for 11 yards. He's a special-teams standout and a decent blocker.

Unit grade

C: Finley's superb finish to the season notwithstanding, that Crabtree led the group in touchdowns is shocking. That Williams didn't contribute as a receiver after dominating the offseason was disappointing. With the receivers riddled with injuries, Williams should have been a major asset. At least he blocks. He did a quality job in that regard to pick up the slack left by Andrew Quarless, who missed the season with a knee injury sustained in November 2011.

Looking ahead

With Greg Jennings peeling the family photos off his locker, there's little reason to believe he'll be back. That means Finley almost has to be back. Without him and Jennings, there would be precious little firepower at Aaron Rodgers' disposal. A tease in his first four seasons, Finley finally became a consistent playmaker.

"I absolutely see him improving," Fontenot said. "As the season wore on, you could see a more confident guy on the field. You could see a guy that once he got his hands on the ball, he was running like a maniac. To me, what I saw early in the year, I just saw a guy wanting to catch the football and he was putting all of his energy into that. Once that became more natural and he got more confident, he started looking for places where he could run the ball. Yeah, I see him definitely in an ascending mode."

Williams and Taylor will be entering their third season and Quarless will be back. Crabtree, a restricted free agent, figures to be back, as well.

One name to remember is practice squad player Brandon Bostick. A former college receiver, he's got field-stretching ability.

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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