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Player Spotlight: Greg Olsen

A detailed look at Greg Olsen's fantasy prospects for 2013

Greg Olsen is coming off of a career year in 2012, but he still may not have reached his peak. Last season Olsen set career highs in receptions, yards, and yards per reception to finish as the sixth best tight end in fantasy football. It's not often that I project a 28 year-old to best his career high when he just set it the year before, so what gives? For one thing, Cam Newton should be a better passing quarterback in 2013. More importantly, Olsen was a little unlucky to not score even more fantasy points than he did last season.

Cam Newton was outstanding over the second half of 2012, but those first six games were pretty brutal at times. Olsen's numbers tell a very similar story. In the first half of 2012, Olsen averaged 4.1 receptions for 49.3 yards per game and scored just one touchdown. In the second half of the season those numbers jumped to 4.4 receptions for 56 yards per game and he scored 4 touchdowns. That may not seem like a huge difference, but if you project those numbers over a full season you have a tight end with 70 catches, 896 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. That would have made Olsen the fourth best tight end in fantasy football last year. 

So how was he unlucky? Take a look at Olsen's touchdown per reception numbers in his career:

YEAR REC TD TD/REC
2007 39 2 .05
2008 54 5 .09
2009 60 8 .13
2010 41 5 .12
2011 45 5 .11
2012 69 5 .07

As you can see, from 2009-2011 Olsen was pretty consistently right around .12 touchdowns per reception (or a touchdown for every 8 catches). If he'd had that same kind of production last season he would have been in the 8-9 touchdown range and, again, been a top four fantasy tight end. In fact, that's the biggest distinction between the first half and second half for Olsen in 2012. In the first 8 games he scored 1 touchdown on 34 receptions (.03). In the second half he returned to normal with 4 touchdowns on 35 receptions  (.11). I've already discounted much of Cam Newton's first half struggles to a confused, and poor, offensive scheme. It's even easier to discount Olsen's lack of touchdowns by noting the same schematic problems and adding on Newton's inaccuracy.

With all this in mind, the past can only tell us so much about Olsen because he'll be in a new offense under offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Shula has been Cam Newton's quarterback coach for the past two seasons and has indicated this summer that he expects Newton to take a big step forward and be smarter running the ball. The theory is that the Panthers will go back to a power running game in 2013, with more play-action passing and slightly less read-option runs. This would be great for Olsen.

If you wanted to take a negative view on the hire of Shula you could look at his time as offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-1999. The Buccaneers were never a good offensive club under Shula and their tight end production was abysmal. Of course, Shula didn't have a Greg Olsen or more importantly a Cam Newton when he was in Tampa Bay.

It's pretty hard to believe that Olsen won't be a huge part of the passing game when you look at the other options. Steve Smith is one of the best receivers of his generation, but he's clearly entering the twilight of his career. Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon are probably on their last chance to prove that their potential can be something more than potential. In 2012 Cam Newton threw 485 passes and 104 (21.4%) of them went Olsen's way. That was second only to Steve Smith (138 targets). Assuming Newton throws around 500 passes in 2013, and Mike Shula does plan on using the play-action pass to open up the middle of the field, it's possible that Olsen could be looking at more like 120 targets in 2013. If he does, and his touchdowns per reception regress back to his normal level, Olsen could certainly be looking at another career year.

POSITIVES

  • Olsen has a young quarterback with a great arm that is only getting better
  • Olsen is one of two solid options in the Panthers offense and he has very little competition for targets
  • At 28 years old, Olsen is still in his prime as a tight end
  • Last year Olsen was the sixth best tight end in the league and certain numbers suggest he should have finished even higher than that

NEGATIVES

  • Offensive coordinator Mike Shula has been known as conservative and has never used the tight end successfully in his offense
  • Newton is a red zone monster on the ground and could take up a large part of the Panthers touchdown scoring

PROJECTIONS

  REC REC YDS REC TD
Heath Cummings Projections 76 874 8
David Dodds Projections 63 762 5

FINAL THOUGHTS

Play-action passes are going to be a huge part of the Panthers offense in 2013 and that is great news for Olsen. Defenses will be focused on stopping Steve Smith on the outside and stopping the running game leaving Olsen to roam the middle of the field. His targets and receptions should go up from 2012, but more importantly, so should his touchdowns. Currently being drafted as the eighth tight end off the board, Olsen represents a great value. Look to draft him when the second run on tight ends happens towards the end of the sixth round.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Sayre Bedinger at NFL Mocks wrote:

There was not a better, more underrated TE last season than Greg Olsen. The former first round pick of the Bears caught 69 passes for 843 yards and five touchdowns, and he’s second in line only to Steve Smith to get targets in this Panthers offense. Even better for potential owners of Olsen in fantasy, Cam Newton loves throwing this guy the ball.

Read more here.

Kyle Wachtel at Forensic Fantasy wrote:

I rank him in a tier alongside Dennis Pitta and Kyle Rudolph – two players that are being drafted more than two rounds earlier than Olsen. At the season’s end, you should be perfectly content with Olsen’s performance and who knows, maybe he’ll take another step forward alongside his quarterback. It also doesn’t hurt that he hasn’t missed a game in the past five seasons. All in all, if you either miss out or do not want to pay the price for one of the high-end options, then Greg Olsen may be the guy to target as your starting tight end for 2013 fantasy football season.

Read more here.


More from Heath Cummings:

Believe it Or Not: Week 8 - October 22
FanDuel Bargain Buys: Week 7 - October 18
DraftKings Bargain Buys: Week 7 - October 17
Believe It Or Not: Week 7 - October 16
DraftKings Bargain Buys: Week 6 - October 10
FanDuel Bargain Buys: Week 6 - October 10
Believe It Or Not: Week 6 - October 8
Draft To Trade: Early Season - October 3
FanDuel Bargain Buys: Week 5 - October 3
DraftKings Bargain Buys: Week 5 - October 3