Why Greg Olsen Is the Best Non-Rob Gronkowski Tight End in Fantasy Football
It was Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkwoski and Julius Thomas. Maybe a little Jordan Cameron, too. But that was it. Those were the tight ends you were generally paying up for in fantasy football drafts back in August.
We were all wrong.
Not because drafting a tight end early is wrong (I'm generally not a believer, but that's not important here), but because we undervalued one of the best, most consistent tight ends in football. We forgot about Greg Olsen.
And even though Greg Olsen's putting together a monster season, we're still forgetting about Greg Olsen. That needs to end.
Olsen's Advanced Metrics
Here at numberFire, we like to analyze player performance through our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. In short, NEP tells us how many points above or below expectation a player performs at based on each play he's involved. If he makes a big catch on third and long for a first down, he'll naturally watch his NEP rise. If he fumbles the ball and turns it over, then his NEP will reflect that.
Pass-catchers are a little tough to evaluate in general, not only because their performance is tied to quarterback play, but because their NEP scores are generally higher than, say, a running back. It makes sense though, as catching a football is much more efficient than running it.
Let's dig into the data. This season, Mr. Olsen is second among tight ends in Reception NEP, or the number of points added on catches only. Gronk is the only player at the position who's ahead of him, by a significant margin (27 expected points), too.
In terms of Target NEP, which factors in incomplete passes (so dropped passes and interceptions aren't good here), Olsen's 46.34 total is fourth in the NFL among tight ends, behind Gronk, Antonio Gates and Travis Kelce. One more catch for a first down would essentially place him second -- that's how close he is.
He's not doing this just based on volume, either. Yes, Olsen is second in tight end targets, but when you divide his Reception NEP by this volume, you still get an incredibly efficient pass-catcher. In fact, he's a top-eight tight end in Reception NEP per target, four spots ahead of Jimmy Graham.
In 2014, it's been Gronk, a big gap, and then Olsen. Period.
Does fantasy football agree?
Olsen's Fantasy Football Numbers
Looking at cumulative numbers in fantasy football can get you in a lot of trouble, and perhaps this idea is most true at the tight end position. This is because tight ends are volatile -- the most volatile of the big four positions in fantasy -- causing weekly fluctuations and inconsistent scoring. Causing, in other words, fantasy football headaches.
In PPR leagues, Greg Olsen is the second-best tight end, behind only Gronk. But he's also just 10 fantasy points ahead of Jimmy Graham, and 6 ahead of Martellus Bennett. Julius Thomas has missed time, and that's why his season-long numbers make him the sixth-best tight end.
Many would argue that Graham's game missed and Thomas' injury are the reason they're not ahead of a guy like Olsen. But when you take a look at the weekly data, a different picture is painted. One where Greg Olsen is a freaking monster.
The table below depicts the top tight ends in fantasy football this year, along with their tight end ranking each week in PPR leagues.
Let's break this down a bit. If you're in a 10-team league, you'd want your tight end to finish in the top 10 at his position in a given week to have a good shot at outscoring your opponent's tight end. Olsen's finished in the top 10 at the position 11 times this season, or 78.6% of his games.
Gronk's been on the fringe a couple of times (finishing 11th twice), so if we were to include those performances in the analysis, we'd find that Gronk's top-10 rate is roughly 92.8%. That's dirty.
But that's not the argument here -- we know Gronk is the best. Martellus Bennett has failed to hit top-10 numbers in 7 of his 14 games this year, good for a 50% rate. Julius Thomas missed being a top-10 tight end in 6 of his outings, and he's only played 11 (45.5%). And lastly, Jimmy Graham's been a top-10 tight end 8 times in 13 games, good for a rate of 61.5%.
Greg Olsen's middle name should be consistency.
The thing is though, Olsen hasn't just grinded his way to the number-two tight end spot because of low-end TE1 performances. He's played five games this year that resulted in a top-two tight end game, while Graham has three of these performances, Thomas has four, and Bennett has two. Eight of Olsen's games have resulted in a top-four finish, which is a higher rate than Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett's top-10 one.
So why are Bennett and Graham close in points scored overall? Because rankings have a ceiling, whereas a single game's production doesn't. Graham's had monster games which have driven up his total points scored -- the standard deviation of his per game point production, if you will, is much larger than Olsen's, and it's even larger than Bennett's. Martellus Bennett, too, has had a larger range of outcomes compared to Olsen. Though their single-game ceilings have been similar, Bennett's hit the 20-point mark once more than Olsen. On the flip side, Bennett's produced single-digit outputs two more times than Olsen has.
Consistency can't be understated at the tight end position, and that's what Olsen's given you all season long. While fantasy owners fall in love with the shiny objects (Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham), they fail to see that Thomas and Graham have had horrendous floors this season. It's not as though they've been high-end tight end assets each time they've stepped on the field. Greg Olsen has, at least at a much better rate than his non-Gronkowski counterparts.
You could certainly make the argument that Martellus Bennett is close to the same type of fantasy player as Olsen. But what's made Olsen better is his general consistency, and the fact that his top-notch performances are coming at the right time for fantasy owners. Since Week 9, Olsen's yet to finish worse than ninth in weekly tight end scoring, and in the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs, Olsen's scored 23.2 and 21.0 PPR points, good for the third- and first-best marks of their respective weeks.
It's Gronk, a big gap, and then it's Olsen. Period.