While most fantasy owners are in agreement that Aaron Rodgers will be a top-tier quarterback in 2009, they remain undecided as to who his top weapon at tight end will be: returning starter Donald Lee or second-year stud Jermichael Finley.
Both have their selling points. For Lee, it's experience. For Finley, it's potential. Each offers a degree of uncertainty as fantasy owners consider both players during their annual fantasy drafts this summer. Can Lee return to his 2007 form, when he ranked among the top 10 fantasy performers at his position? Can the unproven Finley live up to lofty expectations?
Fantasy owners are torn. So far, Lee has the edge in Average RapidDraft Position (he currently ranks 229th overall), but Finley is making up ground fast.
Why Lee will keep the job: Over the last two seasons, he has been one of the Packers' most consistent weapons in the passing game (87 total catches) and one of their best red zone targets. Even more important than the stats, however, is Lee's game experience as a six-year NFL veteran. He not only has a feel for where he needs to sit in soft coverage, he has a great deal more experience than Finley as a run blocker. Finley is younger than many college seniors, and lacks some of the game maturity that Lee offers Green Bay. That said, fantasy owners shouldn't mistake Lee for a fossil; not yet 30, he still has plenty of good football in front of him.
Why Finley will win it: As every veteran player knows, there is always going to be someone who is younger, fresher, and ready to take your job away. For Lee, that player is Finley, who is still just 22 years old. At the University of Texas, Finley caught 76 passes during his two years in the lineup. He gained national fame after catching four passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in the 2007 Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he is an athletic freak -- more Keith Jackson than Mark Chmura -- and a much better big-play threat than Lee, who had just three catches of 20 or more yards for Green Bay last year. And although Finley's numbers did not impress during his rookie season, he did finish the year with a 35-yard catch in Week 16 and his first NFL touchdown in the season finale.
Who fantasy owners should pull for: Finley
Fantasy owners know that there are two brands of tight ends: those who are durable and helpful every so often, and those who are difference-makers on a weekly basis. Lee is the former and Finley the latter. Finley not only can win the Packers' starting job, he possesses the athletic gifts to be the sleeper fantasy tight end of the year.
Still not sold? In that case listen to star wide receiver Greg Jennings, who pointed to Finley at the start of training camp and told reporters, "I'm telling you right now, this is the future, right here."
Mike Beacom is the publisher for World Fantasy Games, which includes RapidDraft.com, SportsBuff.com and ProFantasySports.com.