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Player Spotlight: Greg Olsen

Dave Larkin breaks down Greg Olsen's prospects for 2017 and beyond. 

Pros

  • He is a model of consistency: In the pantheon of great tight ends of the modern game, Greg Olsen’s reputation continues to grow. He has not missed a game since arriving in Carolina for a song in 2007 and has finished as a top-seven tight end in five of the past seven years.
  • His rapport with his quarterback: Although Cam Newton isn’t exactly the poster boy when it comes to accuracy, he has managed to uncork some lasers to his favourite target over the years. The two seem to have a mind meld on certain routes. Olsen’s uncanny knack for finding soft spots in coverage has bailed Newton out of many tricky situations.
  • Tight ends last longer: The new age of the NFL means more passing and more protection for receiving threats like Olsen. The trickle-down effect is less big hits and more years on the field. Savvy players like Olsen have the nous and situational awareness to minimize collisions and save their body for the next play rather than trying to be a hero. Even entering his age 32 season, he is in prime physical condition. How he produces – with smart route-running and an every-down toughness - shouldn’t change at all.

Cons

  • Contract holdout could leave sour taste: Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is known to play hard ball at times, even with star players. The reports in Charlotte seem to indicate that Olsen intends to hold out from training camp if he is not granted a bump in pay. It is highly unlikely the team would do anything to create friction between them and a key player, but the situation bears watching if nothing else. Gettleman has parted with players over less.
  • Offensive redesign could see roles shift: The Panthers have undergone an offensive facelift this offseason in an effort to protect Cam Newton and ensure his longevity as their signal caller. The past few seasons have seen the team employ a Coryell-style downfield attack, where Newton was asked to hang in the pocket and absorb big hits, with chunk plays the payoff. A revamped, short passing attack is expected to be installed, and it is possible Olsen’s targets could be negatively impacted; Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel loom large.
  • Cam Newton’s shoulder: The hype video released by the Panthers last week, which featured Newton throwing his first passes after offseason shoulder surgery, would seem to indicate all is on schedule. However, it may take time for him to feel fully at ease on the field. Newton is already taking a lot of flak for his subpar 2016 season; if things were to continue in that fashion, Olsen’s late-season swoon of 2016 could carry forward into this year.

THE OLD RELIABLE

At 32 years of age, Greg Olsen is arguably only entering the prime of his career. Tight ends like him – savvy, battle-tested veterans – tend to stick around in this league for a long time. Production tends to follow; last season Olsen became the first TE in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He is also yet to miss a game for the Panthers, with his starts streak standing at 80 games. What’s more, he consistently ranks among the most trustworthy options at the position, finishing as a top seven tight end in five of the past seven years.

Inevitably, of course, some fantasy connoisseurs will let their eyes wander to the sexier options like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Reed, but Olsen belongs in the conversation. Current ADP trends reflect that, with the dependable Olsen coming off the board as TE4.

Any talk of a potential training camp holdout aside – besides being a heck of a player, Olsen clearly knows his worth – it appears as though only injury will stop this old reliable from finishing as a top-five tight end in an offense that suddenly appears to be more bright and shiny than previous years, as bulk and brawn have been replaced by guile and quickness.

NEWTON’S NEW TOYS

That brings me on smoothly to the questions surrounding the Panthers’ new offense, which has been oft-discussed but rarely defined this offseason. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly composed a brilliant piece on the Panthers offense being ‘the future of football’, while offensive coordinator Mike Shula demurred with a coach-like:

“We’re just going to try to win our first game and go from there,” he said.

He can play it coy if he likes, but clearly this plan has been put in place by the Panthers brain trust to keep Cam Newton upright and release the ball more quickly. Eschewing a gung-ho, downfield passing attack for a more nuanced, dump off-oriented one will not be an overnight transition. The key issue here, however, is how this revamped attack will affect Newton’s favourite target, Greg Olsen.

Ultimately, if I had to handicap it, I would say very little. Olsen has demonstrated that he is an every down weapon and, if anything, the horizontal stretch that Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey will add can only help him do some seam-ripping. If defenses thought they had a hard time before preparing for this multi-faceted attack, 2017 is about to get a lot tougher. Personnel groupings will be flexible, but Olsen will always be there to gobble up targets, catches and touchdowns.

SATELLITE ISSUES

The Panthers aggressively pursued offensive line help this offseason, signing Matt Kalil to be their left tackle and drafting hulking right tackle Taylor Moton. The plan is to return to 2015 form when the line stayed healthy and performed at a consistently excellent level to vault the team into the Super Bowl. The knock-on effect here is less time spent blocking for Olsen, who is one of the most willing and toughest tight ends in the league in this role. What he lacks in girth, he makes up for in craftiness.

The health of Cam Newton’s shoulder has been the persistent worry for Carolina fans and fantasy owners since he went under the knife in March, but all seems on course – especially if you believe in overproduced hype videos. Once again, we come back to the fact that Greg Olsen is basically quarterback-proof and has managed to string together decent performances with Derek Anderson at the helm as well.

Final thoughts

In redraft formats, Olsen has about as high a floor as any tight end available, and deserves to be considered as a top three option – particularly if you are a believer in the Panthers’ new offensive scheme and offensive line improvements.

In dynasty circles, it would be wise to keep your cart hitched to Olsen’s wagon for as long as possible. Like so many luminaries of the position before him, he has the nous and skill to be a relevant player for years to come.

Projections

PROJECTOR GM REC YDS TD
DODDS 15 78 1006 5
HENRY 16 78 1030 5
WOOD 16 80 1000 5
TREMBLAY 16 80 1020 4

Other viewpoints

CBS Sports take a more cautious tone with Olsen, warning that some owners might be Greg Olsen CBS view" href="http://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/football/players/502524/greg-olsen/" target="_blank">scared of buying into him when the inevitable decline is soon to hit, but finishing with an overall positive assessment based on his track record.

Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros Greg Olsen" href="https://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/players/greg-olsen.php" target="_blank">had this to say about Olsen: "Call him boring, but he's been a top-four tight end for each of the last three years and hasn't finished outside of the top-eight since 2011. The concern is that he was just the No. 14 tight end from Week 8 through Week 17."