Should owners select Dallas Clark or Jermichael Finley as the second tight end drafted (behind Antonio Gates)?
The Case for Clark
Most owners rightfully made Clark the first tight end off the board in 2010. Clark was coming off career highs in catches (100) and yards (1,106) while grabbing 10 touchdowns. Clark firmly solidified his role as Peyton Manning’s top option over the middle and was off to a strong start in 2010 before he suffered a severe hand/wrist injury. Through six games, Clark grabbed 37 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Jacob Tamme took over where Clark left off, grabbing 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns. In short, the starting Colt tight end posted 104 catches for 978 yards and seven touchdowns, which would be good for second in tight end scoring. Given Clark’s immense talent, he probably would have topped these numbers.
Clark, an eight-year NFL veteran, has been reliabile and a model of good health. Last year marked only the second season in which Clark missed more than one game due to an injury. Reports suggest that Clark’s wrist is fully healed and he’s ready to have a big season. Clark just turned 32 years old, but remains as one of Manning’s favorite targets.
The Case for Finley
Does any player in our entire game have more upside than Finley? After a somewhat quiet 2009 regular season where he grabbed 55 passes for 676 yards and five scores, Finley showed America his monster potential in the Divisional Round against the Arizona Cardinals, grabbing six passes for 159 yards. However, his stat line isn’t what caught my attention. It’s his size and run-after-the-catch ability. The 6-foot-5, 247 pound Finley was easily running by outside linebackers and safeties, giving Aaron Rodgers a huge, freakishly athletic target over the middle.
Heading into 2010, on upside alone, I knew I had to have the third-year pro from Texas on my team. However, Finley let me and the rest of his owners down, suffering a season-ending knee injury after only playing in the first four games. Finley’s final stat line included 21 catches, 301 yards and one score. So how does this affect his 2011 value?
If we look back to last season, Finley was tied with Greg Jennings in terms of total targets over Green Bay’s first four games:
1) Jennings 10-5-6-5 26 total
2) Finley 6-6-9-5 26 total
Finley and Jennings each received 21 percent of Green Bay’s total targets. More impressively, Finley’s catch rate was 81 percent, which was tops for tight ends. Over a full 16-game slate, an 81 percent catch rate is not sustainable. For their careers respectively, Gates and Tony Gonzalez have averaged a 66 percent catch rate, but neither player has played with a quarterback as dynamic and as accurate as Aaron Rodgers. To better gauge Finley’s potential output, let’s assume that Finley regresses to his 2009 catch rate (75 percent).
Since Finley has only one full season worth of statistics, let’s make some assumptions. In Green Bay’s first four games last season, Rodgers, on average, attempted 31 passes per game. Over the 10 games that Finley did not play, Rodgers increased his pass attempts to 34 per game. If we assume that Rodgers attempted 34 passes per game for the entire season, that would mean he made 544 attempts over the course of the season. If we assume that Finley maintained 21 percent of the targets, that gives him 115 targets (third among tight ends last year) and a 75 percent catch rate gives him 86 catches (second). Finley was averaging 14.0 yards per catch before his injury, which would allow me to project him to reach roughly 1,200 yards (first). Touchdowns are almost impossible to project, but Finley possesses double-digit touchdown ability. This study alone shows that Finley is a 1,000-yard receiver, double-digit touchdown scorer if he can stay healthy. Knee injuries are always tricky, but reports suggest that Finley is back to his freakishly athletic ways.
The second tight end on my 2011 board is: Jermichael Finley, Green Bay
Both tight ends play in dynamic passing offenses where quarterback play and supporting players are elite. However, Finley’s upside is way too good to pass up. Outside of injury concern, there’s nothing not to like about Finley this season. He has the tools, situation and ability to finish as fantasy’s top tight end.
Clark is still elite, but we saw his best season in 2009. I can conservatively project that Clark will grab 85 balls for 850 yards and eight touchdowns, but with Finley, I can shoot for the moon. No one would be surprised to see Finley grab 85 passes for 1,100 yards and 10-12 touchdowns. To me, that potential is a slam dunk in the fourth round. Hopefully, it is for you too.