Fantasy Football: Does Greg Olsen Deserve to Be Drafted as an Elite Tight End?

Olsen has been an upper-echelon option at tight end in recent seasons. Entering his age-32 campaign, is there any reason to worry about him in 2017?

Earlier this summer, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen declared that he was looking for a new contract, one that would pay him commensurate with the NFL's top tight ends.

That makes perfect sense, because in recent seasons, Olsen has been just that -- an elite tight end. In both real and fake football, Olsen has performed at a level very few tight ends can match.

But what can we expect from him moving forward?

The fantasy community still clearly views Olsen as a top-tier player at the position, with the Panthers' pass catcher coming off the board as the TE3 early in the fifth round, per standard-league average draft position (ADP) data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

Entering his age-32 season, will Olsen again put up fantasy numbers that rank among the league's top players at his position, or will he struggle to return value at his current cost?

Finding His Feet

After finishing as the standard-league TE18, TE6 and TE8, respectively, in his first three seasons with the Panthers, Olsen made a jump during the 2014 campaign. It was a leap that he's been able to maintain for the last three years, as the numbers below attest.

Season Games Targets Rec Yards Touchdowns Rank (Standard) Rank (PPR)
2014 16 129 80 1,073 3 4th 3rd
2015 16 124 77 1,104 7 4th 5th
2016 16 123 84 1,008 6 2nd 5th

To put the above numbers into some kind of context, over the past three seasons, Olsen ranks first in targets, receptions and receiving yards among all tight ends. His touchdown tally is good for just eighth, but his PPR total of 655.60 points makes him the overall TE1 since the start of the 2014 campaign.

Not Just a Fantasy

Fantasy stats don't tell the full story, of course. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary, we can see how good Olsen has been from a real-life perspective.

The table below shows Olsen's Reception NEP per target in from 2014 to 2016, and it also shows his Reception Success Rate, which is the percentage of his catches that resulted in a positive NEP gain. His ranks are formed from all tight ends who saw at least 80 targets in that season.

Season Reception NEP/Target Rank League Average Reception Success Rate Rank
2014 0.70 0.60 7th 91.67% 3rd
2015 0.75 0.59 3rd 85.71% 4th
2016 0.73 0.62 4th 93.75% 1st

According to our metrics, Olsen has been really good, as you probably expected.

His 2016 performance is all the more remarkable considering how dire the quarterback play from Cam Newton was. Of the 22 quarterbacks to drop back at least 500 times last season, Newton's 1.24 total Passing NEP ranked 20th, ahead of only Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler. His Passing NEP per drop back was 0.00 (0.002 if we carry it out one more place), compared to the league-average clip of 0.12, meaning Newton barely added any expected points to the Panthers each time he dropped back.

By comparison, the tight end who ranked second in Reception Success Rate, the timeless Antonio Gates, saw his quarterback, Philip Rivers, finish with the 13th-most Passing NEP and a spot-on league average Passing NEP per drop back of 0.12.

Looking Ahead

Yeah, yeah, I hear you -- Olsen has been great, but that's no guarantee he'll be great in 2017. Au contraire, dear reader. The signs for Olsen are quite positive.

In terms of his seasonal matchups, he has an almost ludicrously inviting schedule. Per our schedule-adjusted team metrics, eight of his opponents rank among the most welcoming defenses against tight ends, and he has just two games against the most difficult tight end matchups in the league. The one warning sign schedule-wise would be that one of Olsen's toughest on-paper matchups (Minnesota Vikings) comes in Week 14, fantasy playoff time.

Olsen should again have a rock-solid role in the Panthers' offense despite the presence of Kelvin Benjamin and draft additions Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.

Benjamin will likely see solid volume at wide receiver as he commanded 27% of Carolina's targets in 2014 and 21% in 2016 (he missed 2015 with an injury). But even in those seasons, when Benjamin was the clear number-one receiver on the Panthers, Olsen still saw at least a 23% market share in each campaign, including a team-leading market share in 2016.

Long story short: Olsen is not going away.

Our projections have Olsen finishing as the overall TE2, behind only Rob Gronkowski. We project him for 80 receptions, 985 yards and 6.43 touchdowns. Given his ADP as TE3, Olsen appears to be fairly priced, and there's really nothing to worry about here. Olsen has been and should continue to be one of the game's premier fantasy tight ends.

If you want to take a tight end early, Olsen is about as safe as they come.