Jermichael Finley – Tight End or Wide Receiver?

| February 22, 2012

There’s a lot of speculation circulating about a certain Packer player, the position he plays and the likelihood of him being “franchised” in the next few days. The questions essentially boil down to:

•  Will Green Bay use their franchise tag on Jermichael Finley?

• If they do tag him there’s no question they’ll do it on the basis of him being a tight end (because this will cost them in the order of $5.4M per year) but does he actually play tight end, wide receiver (where the tender will be about $4M more) or some new, as yet unnamed, hybrid position?

While we have a view on the first of these questions (more later) it’s the second we’ll deal with in detail first. Indeed, who better to give you the hard data about what Finley did last year than the team who watched (and logged) the position of every player on every snap of every game?

 

Definitions

If the Packers do use the tight end franchise tag it’s certain Finley’s agent will fight it by saying he wasn’t a tight end in 2011. So how will that happen? Well first they’ll go to the Collective Bargaining Agreement which states the tender:

“…..will apply to the position in which he participated the most plays”.

 

So that part is easy, it’s just counting, but here’s the difficult bit: what defines a tight end and how is it different to a wide receiver?

The definition of a tight end is “an end that lines up close to a tackle”, whereas a wide receiver is “a receiver who usually lines up split out from the offensive formation”. Another key differentiator between the two roles is the requirement for a tight end to block; why else would they line up close to the tackle?

Finally, there is a difference between the normal stances of a tight end and a wide receiver. Two point stances are used by wide receivers to get a quick release, but a tight end will utilize a three point stance, due to their blocking responsibilities.

So what Finley’s agent will need to do is show either his alignment (split-out versus close in) or his stance (two point versus three point) are more like a wide receiver, together with possibly looking at how often he blocks. Obviously, as everyone blocks on running plays, detailing what he does on passing plays would be the important factor there.

 

The Numbers

From our detailed analysis here is Finley’s positional data for 2011:

Plays

JF Aligned Close to Tackle

JF Aligned away from Tackle

JF in Three point stance

JF in Two point stance

JF Pass Routes Run

JF Pass Blocks made

791

388

403

316

475

538

39

NB: These numbers have been adjusted from the snap counts we normally use to align exactly with the official NFL snap count definition

 

So in the three key areas:

• Finley is aligned away from the tackle on 51% of snaps

• Finley is in a two point stance on 60% of snaps

• Finley stays in to pass block on only 7% of pass-play snaps

 

Bottom line:

In every measurable category Finley should be considered a wide receiver for the purposes of the tender.

 

Packer Predicament

So in answer to the earlier question: “will Green Bay put a tight end franchise tag on Finley?”, our guess is probably not. Only “probably”? Well this is a football team we are dealing with and it’s not unknown for guys who have spent their life in football to want a fight; even one they shouldn’t conscionably be able to win. By the letter of the CBA, on every measure we can use, Finley is a wide receiver, but even if the tribunal doesn’t quite see it like that there’s no way they could class him as a tight end. As the arbitrator can only rule in black or white; i.e. he’s either a tight end or a wide receiver,  the likely worst case for the Finley camp is that they and the Packers agree a hybrid position that gives him a lot more cash than $5.4M.

If logic reigns however, expect to see either a mutually beneficial long term deal agreed, without having to resort to the tag, or Finley testing the open market, because the Packers somehow believe he isn’t worth the money. If that’s the case everyone will get to know exactly how much a “hybrid” receiver is worth and expect it to be far closer to wide receiver numbers than those of a tight end.

 

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  • farva077

    I understand the definition of TE vs WR in the CBA isn’t friendly to the Packers’ contention that Finley is a TE. However, I think the it would be useful to know how many true WR, i.e. a Greg Jennings, align close to the tackle or in a three point stance over a season. In my opinion, Finley is still much more of a TE than he is a WR despite where he aligns. No WR in the league lines up next to the tackle as much as he does. Also, your numbers show that Finley was used as a run blocker over 200 times this season. It would be interesting to see where he lined up on those plays, next to the tackle or split. I’m willing to bet he was next to the tackle, which differentiates him from a WR. Couple that with the fact he was lined up away from the tackle only a handful of times more than he was lined up right on the tackle, and I think he was much more of a TE than a WR. A hybrid position is probably the best characterization, and it would be interesting to see what the compensation would look like, but I’m not so sure his production warrants a substantial increase from the $5.5 million TE franchise number.

    • solaufein

      I see where you are coming from, but I’d point out that the language (as shown above) states “…will apply to the position in which he participated the most plays.” not as compared to other players. The language looks at number of plays not players at the proposed position.

  • maxwellsdemon13

    Is this data something you keep for all players or just did the study on Finley? If you have this data for all TE’s, I was wondering what the table would look like for the whole league, to see which TE’s lined up outside the most or which TE’s didn’t lineup wide very often. Heck if this is a very easy thing to track it would make a fantastic Signature Stat, it would really help those who are studying who TE’s are used on a team. WR’s are becoming more and more separated into outside WR’s and slot, and TE’s divergence is growing as well, if not quicker, between blocking and receiving TE’s, though some TE’s are great at both, those are rare.

    • Neil Hornsby

      Yes, we have the split out versus close in data for everyone. I have done a graph that shows the dispersion but felt it didn’t really fit in this article as it shows comparisons to others and as solaufein pointed out, that isn’t really the point here. That said id did add to the argument I was making.

      • maxwellsdemon13

        I can understand not including the graph in this article, and I believed that having the full league data would just support your idea. With that in mind, I think it would be interesting to see how TE’s lined up, I know personally that it would be very helpful to track how TE’s are used and how offensive coordinators are using TE’s.

  • motorcycle

    profootballweekly say that Finley aligned in a TE position for 54% of his snaps.

    • Neil Hornsby

      …..and you say this because you think it’s more accurate than our view?

      • motorcycle

        no, I said it because they said it. If I were registered on PFW’s website I would have replied to their article with a link to your stats.

  • dohpey28

    I don’t see why 2 pt vs 3 pt stance should matter. Tackle’s don’t line up in 3 pt stances on every play.

  • Rick Drummond

    … and it lands squarely in the “hybrid zone”. As reported, 2 yrs, $15 mil.