When the Green Bay Packers selected Texas tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) in the third round of the 2008 draft, there were many questions about the third-year sophomore's decision to leave school for the NFL.
The NFL's Advisory Board projected Finley as a fourth-round pick and told him so -- not because his raw talent was lacking, but because Finley still had a lot to learn about the game as a 21-year-old newbie. Finley ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine, seemingly confirming the league's reservations about his readiness for the pros. But the Packers love big receivers in multiple formations, and they saw Finley as someone who could fit very well in their offense.
From an on-field perspective, the Packers were absolutely right in giving Finley a shot -- his six-catch, 159-yard performance in the 2009 wild-card playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals was the culmination of a late-season surge in which he caught 38 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns in the last seven regular-season games. Finley had become an appealing option for quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes), but there were many off-field concerns that dogged him through the offseason.
Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel detailed what those issues have been in an outstanding piece that ran on Sunday. "The Right Route" went into Finley's transformation from an athlete in pads who thought he could use his physical gifts to get by, to a young man looking for what it takes to be the best.
"I want it all," Finley recently told Bedard. "I want to be the best tight end in the league, and I want to be a better father, husband and teammate. I want people to know they can look at Jermichael Finley and say, 'That's a Packer.' That's what I'm shooting for."
To get there, Finley knew he had to deal with immaturity issues -- he missed curfew the night before that Arizona loss, was late to several meetings, skipped out of training camp to sleep in his own bed, and changed agents three times in two years. But eventually, Finley got the point -- he went to head coach Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson, and several other coaches and executives to explain that he knew he was on the wrong track, and that he was now looking to turn it around.
Jermichael Finley came into the league too young, and it showed. But it's very encouraging to see when the light goes on for any player. Remember that the Philadelphia Eagles cut Cris Carter because he didn't have his head on straight, and Carter went on to catch over 1,000 passes for the Minnesota Vikings. In Green Bay's potentially combustible offense, Finley is one to watch -- and not just for what he does between the lines.