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This is the 29th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
Because he has yet to produce at a high level over the course of an entire season, there is a certain element of risk in banking on Packers TE Jermichael Finley to become a fantasy thoroughbred in 2010.
But considering the quantum leap he made in his second season, any risk you take with Finley just might result in a sumptuous fantasy reward.
There was never any denying the tremendous potential of Finley, who turned heads with regularity down the stretch in 2009 and performed well enough to earn a fifth-place ranking in the Pro Football Weekly and Yahoo Sports 2010 Fantasy Football Guide behind Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jason Witten — a high-rent fantasy district if there ever was one.
In his first season in the NFL, however, there was also never any denying Finley's obvious immaturity and less-than-stellar work ethic.
Nonetheless, Finley's size, speed and natural athleticism led to him eventually overtaking veteran Donald Lee as the Packers' undisputed starting tight end last season.
Finley really took off in '09 after returning from a knee injury in Week 10, performing well enough to end up flirting with the Packers' single-season record for catches by a tight end with 55 receptions for 676 yards and five touchdowns in only 13 games.
Creating huge matchup problems on a regular basis in addition to opening up Green Bay's ground game, Finley had four or more catches in five of his last seven games and four of his five TDs in the last five games.
The icing on the cake was yet to come — an eye-popping 159-yard receiving performance against Arizona in last year's wild-and-crazy wild-card game that set a Packers postseason record.
But there were still traces of immaturity displayed by Finley, an understandable occurrence from a relative babe in the woods who turned only 23 in late March. He showed up late for about a half-dozen meetings and really ruffled some feathers when he managed to miss curfew in advance of his aforementioned playoff masterpiece.
This offseason, though, Finley indicated early on that he intended to be a new man.
"I want it all," Finley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the start of voulntary offseason workouts in Mid-May "I want to be the best tight end in the league."
Finley believes rehiring respected agent Blake Baratz to replace Major Adams, whose hiring he admitted was a major mistake, will help his cause, and he made it clear to the Packers' hierarchy that he had seen the error of his prior ways.
"I laid everything on the table," Finley said. "I did it so they can know I want to be a leader coming into 2010 and a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion — I want all of that.
"I want to be the guy they know can make that happen."
In many ways, Finley's apparent epiphany is similar to the one experienced by the Niners' Davis, who had a fantasy season for the ages in '09.
Don't be shocked if Finley follows in Davis' fantasy footsteps one year later.
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.