Which means, quite honestly, those fans out there, and even those so-called "draft experts" who claim they know everything about a player based on combine statistics and other stuff that gets posted on the internet are pretty much full of crap. And I, who have never even posted a Round One mock draft, am a flea compared to the ants out there who are the "experts".
In the end, the people with the real know are the ones in the scouting department and in the war room, and they aren't going to share what they know with us, particularly before the draft. And, as a result, I am going to offer a mea culpa to two folks I gave a bit of criticism to a few years ago; Ted Thompson and Jermichael Finley.
I first questioned Finley's pick immediately after the 2008 draft
Finley is an athletic young man, as most tight ends are, but I think he is going to be ill-prepared for the transition to the NFL. He came out early because he is expecting his second child and needed the money. Yes, there are those who say had he stayed another year at Texas he would have been a first-rounder.And then, I offered the guy, based on the scouting reports, that I felt Ted Thompson should have taken.
But right now, I don’t think you’re going to see him on the field. He's a one-dimensional pass-receiving tight end. Donald Lee is going to needed to be on the field more often with his middling blocking skills, to accommodate the protection of Aaron Rodgers. It’s not going to be often we can afford the extra luxury of a pass receiving tight end who is a liability as a blocker.
Even more interesting was that the Packers had a chance to take perhaps the tight end with perhaps the best blocking ability of the top tight ends at #60, when they took CB Patrick Lee. Martellus Bennett, taken at #61 by Dallas, brings Antonio Gates-esque receiving potential as well as the size to execute the blocking the Packers need.
In the end, Finley may end up surprising me, and certainly, I hope he does. But I think this was a need pick that didn’t really meet the needs we had.
So there...I checked over those scouting reports and pored over all the free draft sites and I found the guy that, according to their recommendations, was what we needed: a complete tight end with an emphasis on opening holes and keeping the quarterback safe as well as being a playmaker.
You have to remember at the time that our running game was rather suspect the previous season (at least through the first half) and that the Zone Blocking Scheme was still a work in progress, with Bubba Franks being pulled in more to block than go out for passes. For all his faults, Franks was still a superior blocker over Donald Lee, which might explain Lee's bump-up in stats those years while Franks' took a dive.
Before starting this article, I wanted to believe, in my own mind, that I hadn't been to hard on Finley, that he was a good guy and Bennett was just a bit better. But going back and reading my post-draft musings, I was pretty hard on Finley.
I am still down on Jermichael Finley, who despite his athleticism, is still striking me as a cocky young kid who is going to be in way over his head very quickly, and worst of all, a liability as a blocker. If our line hasn't improved in its pass blocking, and Rodgers has the lack of pressure awareness that he has shown in the past, Finley isn't going to see the field much at all.
By November of 2008, I was still pretty disappointed in Finley, and following his much-hyped comments about Aaron Rodgers "not knowing how to use him", I was starting to get the feeling I was right, unfortunately.
Tight ends: Donald Lee was a favorite of Brett Favre last season, but his production in 2008 appears to be halved in nearly every category. His yards per catch has fallen from 12 to 7.4, and is on pace for only 320 yards this season after nearly 600 in 2007. The departure of reliable vet Bubba Franks left a void behind Lee that is being filled by Tory Humphrey and rookie Jermichael Finley, with neither equalling Franks' prodcution.
Finley, in particular, appears to be very raw and, given his comments yesterday, quite immature. The tight end position has been perhaps the biggest disappointment this season.
I was seeing an immature Finley not filling a void, while Martellus Bennett had caught a 39 yard catch-and-run against the Packers earlier in the season. Bennett finished 2008 with 20 receptions playing behind Jason Witten, and four touchdowns. It appeared at that point that I may have been right about Thompson's judgement.
But, when the (blue) chips fell, it soon became clear whose judgement was clearer, and it was not Martellus Bennett. Bennett apparently decided he would be cool by creating his own YouTube rap video show, in which he would reveal to his fans whatever came to mind. Apology after apology has been issued from the Bennett camp for what appears to be increasingly foolish attention brought to his team.
In January of 2009, Bennett was fined by the Cowboys and issued a subsequent apology for using profanity and derogatory terms for African-Americans and gays in one of his videos...all while wearing his Cowboy helmet. The apology, issued in another video, was could easily be confused with making excuses.
Then, in July of that same year, he issued another "apology" for producing a video called the "Black Olympics", in which he and his brother participated in events such as eating chicken, drinking Kool-Aid, and eating watermelon. Again, the word "sorry" never actually appears in the apology, but an explanation of how what he thinks is funny may not be what other people think is funny.
Finally, this past month, Bennett followed up a lackluster sophomore season with some more offensive BTV riffs on Osama bin Laden. And then, there was that picture of himself naked in the mirror that went viral on the Internet. He alleges that a former girlfriend released the pictures online, bringing back striking memories of Andre Rison having his house burned down by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez. He apologized this week to the team and to his fans, both of which are growing weary of the negative publicity Bennett is bringing to the team.
Finally, Bennett decided after enough fun, it was time to pull the plug on his YouTube show.
"I'm not doing that no more," Martellus Bennett confirmed after Thursday's practice. "All I want to do is play football, hang out with my friends and chill on the patio."
He thought a moment.
"And wear cool shoes."
All in all, these are things that don't show up in scouting reports, especially in an age when college players hire coaches to help them with their interviews. A combine can measure your arm span and 40-yard dash times and a Wonderlic can measure base intelligence, but it's much harder to evaluate maturity and judgement.
And, while Jermichael Finley has struggled at times with the former, you certainly have to say he has vastly outstripped Bennett (no pun intended) on the latter.
In fact, in 2009, while Bennett struggled on the field and had his motivation questioned, Finley exploded, wrestling the starting spot away from Donald Lee and finishing with 55 receptions for 676 yards and 5 TD, with an amazing ten plays for 20 yards or more.
And, he showed up in big games at the end of the season. In two losing efforts against the Steelers and Cardinals, he combined for 15 receptions, 233 yards, and a touchdown.
Nearly everyone, included the statmakers at Madden 2011, have Finley pegged as a breakout star for this season, not only giving him an 86 overall rating, but an 88 "swag" rating that measures his bravado (or in the case of ACME Packing Co, his "foolishness"). His constant Twitter feed portrays a young man who is pumped for a season, giddy with anticipation. Martellus Bennett sits on the injured list, finally deciding his football career is more important than his rap career.
This is not to say that Jermichael is completely out of the woods. As Aaron Nagler would tell you, every player, even our best, have room to grow, and Finley can and should still develop as a receiver and definitely as a blocker. He needs to work on his dropped passes and making himself a reliable end-zone target.
And, as we heard last Thursday on Cheesehead Radio, Jersey Al "The Situation" Bracco unloaded a rant on Finley for making contest promises on Twitter that he didn't keep, making it worse by ignoring requests from those who won. We still have to remember that Finley is young and will likely continue to make mistakes (and hopefully learn from them). He's far from a finished, polished product.
But, almost a year ago to the day, I had already begun musing my own error in judgement; the one in which I thought Martellus Bennett was the better choice at tight end in the 2008 draft. Finley came in for training camp focused and producing regularly, an indicator of things to come in the regular season. As I said then, I may have to admit I was wrong, which as a Packer fan is only a good thing.
So, here it is: Ted Thompson, you will have noticed I have stopped trying to immediately critique your drafts the past few years. There's a reason you sit in that war room, and the rest of us do not. Most of all, thank you for looking carefully and the things we can't see, like character and how players reflect on the organization and interact in the locker room. You dodged a bullet with Bennett, but I'm guessing he wasn't even on your list.
And, Jermichael, I said some disparaging things about you two years ago. In the end, though, you were the better pick, and I was wrong. Thanks for keeping your chin up despite the criticism and I will proudly be wearing a Finley T-shirt and/or jersey this year to Lambeau Field. Now, go take that swag and make all Packer fans proud.
And, don't create any YouTube rap stations any time in the near future.