A Tale of Two Seasons
Owners historically have short memories so many owners will focus on how great Jennings was in the Super Bowl or his strong playoff performances against Chicago and the Love of my Life: the Atlanta Falcons. What owners will forget is how mediocre Jennings was before Finley got injured and was lost for the season.
During the first four games of last season, Jennings had only 12 catches with a paltry 161 receiving yards. Heading into October, Jennings was averaging three catches and 40 receiving yards a game. He was on pace for an abysmal 48 catches with 644 receiving yards. For some perspective on how monumentally putrid those numbers are, Jennings would’ve finished outside of the Top 40 receivers in catches and receiving yards. And he would’ve been far behind such fantasy “studs” as Michael Crabtree, Nate Washington and even his own teammate, Packers’ No. 4 receiver James Jones.
Defenders of Jennings will bring up how he had three touchdowns in that first month of supposedly horrendous games. They will also talk about how all players go through slumps at certain points in their careers. They will say that the fact that Jennings recovered and ended up having a great season more than makes up for his slow start. Jennings’ long track record of fantasy greatness should be the focus, not one small bad stretch, which is an outlier for the rest of his career.
I’m here to tell you that this defense has some legitimacy. Jennings has been a fantasy stud for a long time now. He’s earned the trust of owners everywhere. I come here not to bury Jennings. I only come here to raise a reasonable doubt about drafting Jennings in the second round as the fourth or fifth overall receiver drafted. Was that first terrible month really an outlier or a preview of things to come?
To better answer that question, let’s take another look at Finley. Last time we talked about his past. This time we’re talking about his immediate present, specifically his health and motivation.
A Healthy and Extremely Motivated Finley
Finley’s recovery after surgery on his right knee has been going well. He’s already started running drills, catching passes and running routes. He claims that his knee feels “brand new” and all reports have him being ready for training camp, whenever that may be. The point is that Finley will be starting the season healthy and ready to make an impact.
Finley’s been injured for most of his NFL career, missing an incredible 27 games over the last three seasons. I can’t guarantee that Finley won’t get injured during the season. In fact, the chances of him lasting a whole season healthy are about as likely as Michael Vick not getting hurt. When you miss 27 out of 48 games, you’re injury prone. It is what it is.
The questions prospective Jennings owners have to ask is how long will Finley stay healthy this time, and will it be long enough that he completely ruins Jennings’ fantasy season? One thing owners should consider is that besides being healthy, Finley is extremely motivated to have a good, productive season with the Packers.
Finley is in a contract year and with his long injury history, he has to perform this year to land a big contract extension. After looking at all the tight ends the Packers drafted in April, Finley might have to perform to stay on the team. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most important season of Finley’s entire career.
If he gets injured again, he won’t get the big money extension which can set him up for the rest of his life. If he gets injured again, it is unlikely the Packers will re-sign him and he could quickly be out of the league in a couple years due to his inability to stay healthy. If he can stay healthy though for a majority of the season, he has the potential to be ranked as on the best tight ends in the NFL, on the same level as even Antonio Gates. Remember, at the time of last year’s season-ending injury, Finley was on pace for 84 catches and 1,204 receiving yards. He is a superior talent and Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver when healthy.
One of the most commonly held theories about fantasy football drafts is that great teams are built in the middle-to-later rounds and there’s certainly some truth to that. On the other hand, the first couple picks of a draft are undeniably important. These draft picks are the players that you build the foundation of your team around. These are the core players of your team, who reliably deliver you points, carry you to victory and make up for the other “hit or miss” underachievers on your team.
There is enough reasonable doubt about Finley taking Jennings’ spot for owners to think twice about spending a high draft pick on Jennings. Remember that Finley had nearly double the amount of catches and receiving yards Jennings had when Finley was healthy last season. Owners should feel confident about their second-round pick. It should be a no brainer that owners can feel good about it. If Finley stays healthy for just half the season, he’ll have already ruined Jennings’ season and owners will consider him a bust because of his high draft position.
One of the biggest keys to winning a title in fantasy football is taking risks, but Jennings in the second round is a roll of the dice not worth taking. The best risks in the draft you can take are the ones in the middle rounds where the stakes are a little lower. For those owners still dreaming about Jennings’ classic Super Bowl performance and ignoring the concerns about Finley, I hope they’re feeling lucky because they could be headed for a disappointing season.
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Correction – In last week’s “While you were sleeping: Running Backs” article, I incorrectly stated that Adrian Peterson’s had six straight 1,600 total yards seasons. He’s actually only had four straight 1,600 total yard seasons.