Greg Olsen Is an Incredibly Important Piece to Super Bowl 50

Greg Olsen has been quietly destroying opposing defenses for the past two years. Will this continue in the Super Bowl?

When Kelvin Benjamin went down in the preseason with a torn ACL, most football pundits thought that would be the end for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers' offense. Headed to the Super Bowl with a 15-1 record and an MVP frontrunner, the Panthers must not have gotten the memo. 

A huge reason for Carolina's success this year is Greg Olsen, a tight end who doesn't have the brashness of Rob Gronkowski with his monster end-zone spikes, but a player who has quietly been one of the best in the business as a pass-catcher this year. And he could play a big role in Super Bowl 50.

Exploiting the Defense

Let's take a look at how good Olsen has been in the 2015 season using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, as well as a few other categories that demonstrate how Olsen compares to highly targeted tight ends and wide receivers. For some context on NEP, you can check out our glossary.

numberFire Category Total TE Rank WR/TE Rank
Reception NEP 93.12 3rd 17th
Target NEP 50.01 5th 17th
Rec NEP/Target 0.75 3rd Tied-13th
Other Categories Total TE Rank WR/TE Rank
Targets 124 3rd Tied-24th
Receptions 77 Tied-4th Tied-25th
First Downs 52 Tied-2nd Tied-16th
Plays Of 20+ Yards 20 2nd 6th
Rec Yards 1,104 2nd 17th
Touchdowns 7 6th Tied-26th

From the tables above, the thing that jumps out is that Olsen is not only ranked highly among tight ends, but he's flat-out an elite receiving option.

What stands out other than Olsen's efficiency (Reception NEP per target) is Olsen's big-play ability -- namely the fact that he ranked sixth among all pass-catchers in plays over 20 yards, as well as his nose for the first down markers with a whopping 52 first downs on 77 catches.

More impressively, as my colleague Joe Juan pointed out, is that Olsen has been equally consistent and big play oriented in the playoffs. And he's done so against top secondaries. In fact, Olsen ranks second in both plays over 20 yards and first downs (nine) in the playoffs, trailing only Gronkowski.

Against a tough Denver defense that ranks first against the pass according to our numbers, Olsen will want to channel his inner Gronkowski based on the stellar results the Patriots tight end had against the Broncos (8 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets) in the AFC Championship. 

Gronkowski exploited the Broncos safeties (Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward) and their replacements after they were banged up in the AFC Championship. Both safeties were limited in practice as of Wednesday, which is big for Olsen and the Panthers -- based on Olsen's big-play ability and the Broncos need to put a linebacker spy on Newton due to Cam's rushing ability, the middle of the field should be open for Olsen to do work out of the slot. 

While Denver's defense has been at the top of the rankings all season long against the pass, they move more towards the middle and bottom of the curve against tight ends -- the Broncos gave up the 10th most yards to the position in 2015.

We all know that Denver is in the Super Bowl because of their success at bringing pressure in the AFC Championship. The Panthers front and the uber-mobile Newton presents a way bigger challenge for the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, which should also translate to Olsen's success as well. But it's not like the pressure matters all that much -- Newton completed 58.8 percent of passes to Olsen when pressured this year, which is significantly higher than his other receivers.

There's no doubt that Olsen is an important piece to this year's Super Bowl. If the Broncos can't find a solution to stop him, then the Panthers could roll.