Greg Olsen Shouldn’t Be On Your Team (2018 Fantasy Football)
For a long time, we’ve seen a lot of familiar faces atop the tight end rankings. It was always some form of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, and Greg Olsen. But as they say, all good things must come to an end. In today’s player profile, we’ll discuss whether or not that time has come for Olsen, who returned to the team after contemplating retirement.
Not only did Olsen come back, but he signed a two-year extension with the team, locking him up through 2020. The Panthers did, however, grab their insurance in this year’s draft, snagging Indiana’s Ian Thomas in the fourth-round. While he’s considered a developmental project, reports have been encouraging out of training camp. He’s not going to threaten Olsen’s job this year or anything, but the Panthers know the end is near. Should you be worried?
For a long time, it seemed as if the Panthers were going to be surrounding Cam Newton with giant pass-catchers, as the combination of Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Olsen was the biggest trio in the league. It made sense when you consider Newton’s accuracy issues that have kept him below a 60 percent completion rate in 6-of-7 seasons. That changed in 2018, as the Panthers not only drafted miniature Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the top two rounds of the draft, but they also traded away Benjamin to the Bills. Fast-forward to this offseason when they drafted movable wide receiver D.J. Moore in the first-round, who stands at six-feet-tall. It’s clear that the team started to move in another direction from years past, but did it affect Olsen’s role?
In short, yes it did. McCaffrey immediately received a league-high (among running backs) 113 targets in 2017, his rookie year. This is important for a few reasons, but none more than this… No running back/tight end duo in the NFL totaled more than 185 combined targets in 2017 or 2016. That’s a great sample size considering how often teams are targeting the running back position. If the Panthers continue to talk about using McCaffrey in a big way, it’s coming at Olsen’s expense.
JUST HOW BAD IS IT?
When you start taking away targets from Olsen, it’s extremely problematic considering how inaccurate Newton has been. Since coming to the Panthers, Olsen has caught 61.9 percent of his targets, which would’ve ranked 32nd among the 46 tight ends who saw at least 30 targets in 2017. Not only does he not catch a high percentage of passes, but Olsen has topped out at seven touchdowns with the Panthers despite seeing 100-plus targets five times. In fact, he’s got just four touchdowns over the last two years on 167 targets.
When we look at what the most likely of scenarios are between him and McCaffrey, it’s unlikely that McCaffrey slips below 100 targets, making Olsen’s ceiling somewhere around 85 targets. When you look at his catch rate and low touchdown rate, it’s going to be difficult for him to produce as a top-eight option, let alone the top-five option he’s being drafted as.
Projecting Olsen for the 85-target range, his statistical output would look like this with his past performance with Newton: 53 receptions, 660 yards, and four touchdowns. His closest comp from 2017 would have been Eric Ebron who finished with 53 receptions, 574 yards, and four touchdowns.
DECLINE BEGAN BEFORE MCCAFFREY
There have been some who attributed his struggles in 2017 to his foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, but he was struggling prior to that. In the 12 games prior to injuring his foot (dating back into the 2016 season), Olsen was extremely mediocre totaling 44 receptions for 491 yards and one touchdown. Another thing to keep in mind is that Curtis Samuel made almost no impact last year, which could effect both Olsen and McCaffrey, as Samuel was considered somewhat of a gadget player who could play both running back and wide receiver. Their first-round pick D.J. Moore is also someone who works the middle of the field very well.
With all this being said, Olsen is going to have a few games where it’ll make fantasy owners wish they’d taken him, but hey, so will guys like David Njoku. The difference is that you’re paying for Olsen to get you somewhere in the range of 800 yards and five touchdowns (what it would take to finish in TE5 territory), while Njoku is someone being taken in the late rounds. Unless you’re projecting McCaffrey to see less than 100 targets, history says that Olsen is capped around 85 targets, which is not going to cut it with his and Newton’s sporadic numbers across the board. Olsen may only be 33 years old, but similar to Jimmy Graham, these two players have been considered “big wide receivers” for quite some time. It may be a different era where tight ends start falling off earlier than the old days. You’re better off passing on Olsen for someone who presents even more target upside with more potential in his offense. Someone like Trey Burton or Jordan Reed. My 2018 projection: 92 targets, 56 receptions, 745 yards, 4 touchdowns