Originally posted on Packers Notes  |  Last updated 10/6/12

Tight end Jermichael Finley hasn’t been the same since his knee injury

While most fans and members of the media have been focusing on Jermichael Finley’s drops for the past 21 games, I’m more concerned about his decreased athleticism. Ever since injuring his right knee against the Washington Redskins nearly two years ago, the fifth-year tight end from the University of Texas hasn’t looked anything like the physical freak who dominated defenses late in 2009 and early in 2010.

Finley is still a good athlete, but he’s not separating from defenders the way he did prior to the injury. I first noticed this last summer. Players he was leaving in the dust a year earlier were able to stay close and contest passes. That disturbing trend is continuing. Finley was targeted a total of 16 times against the 49ers and the Bears. After re-watching both games, I counted only a handful of times when Finley provided quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a sizable window. The majority of the throws were into tight spaces.

Finley hasn’t had any significant trouble with his knee since returning at the start of the 2011 season, so structurally it’s probably OK. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent. I’m certainly not a doctor, but it’s difficult to come up with any other logical explanation for why a 25-year-old would suddenly lose explosiveness.

None of this is to suggest that Finley should be phased out of the offense. He’s still more talented than three-quarters of the players at his position. But the idea that he’s going to be the next Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez is probably unrealistic. Of course, the Packers don’t need him to be a future Hall of Famer. They just need him to be reliable, and that’s something his right knee has nothing to do with. Dropping balls and missing blocks are all problems that happen about four feet north of the knee.

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