The Case For The Immensely Valuable Greg Olsen

Greg Olsen had a very good year in 2012. So why is he getting drafted behind all the other second-tier tight ends?

I’m starting to realize I have a bit of a fascination with the NFC South this year. A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece declaring the Panthers and Saints last year’s best “bad” teams, and predicting improvement for this season. In my most recent mock draft, I ended up with players from the division with my first four picks (Doug Martin, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Cam Newton, in case you were wondering). I think the Buccaneers will surprise a lot of people, led by the one of the league’s most improved defenses. And now here I am beating the drum for another NFC Southerner: Greg Olsen.

Best in (Second) Class

Pretty much everyone agrees that there is a clear drop off in valuable fantasy tight ends after the top four guys – Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. What no one seems to agree on is who to draft once the studs are off the board.

We have Greg Olsen ranked fifth, leading our second tier of tight ends, which also includes Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta. But on mock drafts, Olsen is getting drafted as the 7th tight end, on average. He’s going just 10th in mock drafts. And, which culls data from mocks all across the internet, has him being drafted as the 11th tight end on average, one spot after… Jermichael Finley.

While there is a clear top tier of tight ends, the next tier is much more muddled. It’s a group that includes Olsen, Daniels, Pitta, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook and Finley, in some order.

There are some guys in that group who seem to be getting drafted high based on name recognition (Davis, Gates, Finley I guess?) and Pitta, who is coming off a solid playoff performance that’s fresh in the collective memory. Rudolph and Cook are young guys with potential that’s getting factored into their projections, maybe even a little too much. (Rudolph also caught a likely unrepeatable nine touchdowns last year.) And then there’s Olsen. What do the numbers say?

It’s weird that Olsen dropped to the bottom of that bunch, given he had the best numbers last year, advanced or otherwise. He had the most receptions (69) and yards (843) of the second-tier tight ends, both by a healthy margin. He led the group in targets as well with 104, and only Daniels (103) was even close. He put up the most net expected points (NEP) with 69.0, and his .66 NEP/target trailed only Davis and Gates, who each had at least 35 fewer targets.

PlayerCatchesYardsTDsReceiving NEPNEP/Target
Greg Olsen69843569.0.66
Jared Cook44523437.3.52
Dennis Pitta61669760.2.64
Vernon Davis41548545.9.75
Kyle Rudolph53493957.3.62
Antonio Gates49538757.7.72
Jermichael Finley61667245.3.53
Owen Daniels62716663.2.61

Once you get into the second class of tight ends, you basically need to look for a guy with solid week-to-week production and abandon hope of huge individual weeks. However, Olsen proved capable of putting up big single-game numbers. Of those eight tight ends, only three put up a 100-yard game last year: Olsen, Pitta and Davis. Olsen had another game with 98 yards, and if he had managed to eek out 6 more feet that day, he would’ve been the only one of the bunch with multiple 100-yard games.

If you’re a fan of late-season surges, Olsen is still your guy. Yeah, Pitta played well in the playoffs, but Olsen was even better down the stretch. Per Matthew Berry and ESPN Stats & Research, Olsen was one of only two tight ends in all of football to put up at least 65 fantasy points in weeks 10-17 last year. The other was Jimmy Graham.

But enough about last season, what about this year? We have Olsen projected for about 74 catches, 860 yards and 5-6 TDs – just a little bit better than his line last year. We don’t have any of the other non-top-tier guys projected for more than 740 yards.

And Olsen has the best odds, by far, to break 800 yards. Check out this handy chart:

PlayerProjected YardsChance of Breaking 800 Yards
Greg Olsen86260.24%
Jared Cook5144.45%
Dennis Pitta72838.98%
Vernon Davis69534.54%
Kyle Rudolph70733.68%
Antonio Gates58412.08%
Jermichael Finley62117.45%
Owen Daniels73336.96%

How valuable is Olsen?

It would be one thing if Olsen were getting drafted in basically the same position as all those other tight ends. Even though we think he’ll be the best of the bunch, it’s not by a dramatic amount.

But where Olsen provides true value is where he’s getting drafted. Per, Vernon Davis is getting drafted just about 63rd overall across all mocks. Olsen? He’s going 113th overall, or 4-5 rounds later, depending on the size of your league. That’s crazy. You can draft a better player nearly twice as late in the draft.

It’s not just Davis either. Pitta is getting drafted around 78th overall. Rudolph is going 87th. You could pass on those guys, fill out your roster with three other players, and still get the superior tight end. Value is basically production minus cost, and Olsen gives you the production of other second-tier tight ends with significantly less cost. That’s great value.