Greg Olsen: The Big Fundamental

by Kevin Nesgoda

Hi, My name is Andy! hope you enjoy this work, and feel free to contact me if you have any thoughts, questions or comments.


Sports fans everywhere know of the San Antonio Legend Tim Duncan. A name so synonymous with the getting the basics right that when you look up ‘big fundamental’ you see the one they sometimes call Groundhog Day.

While unlike Duncan, Olsen is almost universally loved, for his philanthropic work, genuine nature and rapping ability. [Citation NOT needed] however his on-field style and execution, with such consistency and fundamental excellence, garners the same sort of respect as Duncan. At least it damn well should.

I watched every target, touch, and turnover that involved Greg Olsen in 2019 and I want to talk about what I saw:


So thefirst thing I want to clear is some things that have been said about Olsen andsay to what degree they are true or false.

  • Age. This one is certainly a Concern. Greg Olsen will be 35 in less than a month, but with a one-year contract without much likelihood of an extension, there is not much to worry about with this in itself but instead, its byproducts.

  • Speed. Some people have been lamenting the 21st Century NFL, saying it’s a speed-based game. In the film I watched, he could be chased down, but nobody was running circles around him, and his great awareness and sublime body control block the speed demons from jumping every route.

  • Fragility. This is the largest deal-breaker for many people. Olsen Played 14 games in 2019, registering at least 2 catches in 13 of those. In his only catch-less performance, he was on the field for 98% of snaps and was very active in the run game. Even missing 2 entire games, he played 71% of all offensive snaps, which was only accomplished by 12 Seahawks on the team (offense or defense) this season.

  • Pass Protection. People tout his pass protection as being a major appeal as a free agent, and I would say that’s mostly correct! Certainly, he is not the best pass protection guy out there, but I would say he is very difficult to beat as a Jack of all trades.

  • Run Blocking. His run blocking is very good. He doesthe essentials first, then looks to see what he can improve upon. I would sayhe is the best Run-blocking Tight End Seattle now has available.

  • Catching Ability. Some people say it’s unbelievable,some people say it could be better. My verdict is that he will not make aterrible pass great, not a great pass terrible, but rather if a ball is putfairly within his range, there is a strong chance of a catch.

  • Ball Security Issues. Putting this in for completenessafter seeing a comment about it. My film suggests he is incredibly strong atprotecting the ball, both at the point of catch and also after as a runner. Anyconcern of a fumbling issue I would say is, in 2019, totally unfounded.


Now, Ithink it’s important to talk about why I only did 2019. While the obviousreason of “it’s much easier than doing his whole career” was branded in my mindthrough the early hours of this morning as I watched film, I deliberatelyavoided using any highlights of any older footage in order to evaluate as best Icould the type of player the Seahawks are actually getting.

And this is where I came upon the realization that perhaps Olsen is one of the NFL’s Premier (football) Fundamentalists. His stats are in a much sorrier state than they should be due to some very unfortunate quarterbacking misfortunes that have plagued the Carolina Panthers all year. See my other post about his interceptions for more on that.

His usage within the system changed dramatically often. His first three touches were a TE screen, an RPO and a throw very close to the flats. His first-week production was decent, with 3 catches for 30+ yards. It would be one of 2 weeks with Cam at the helm, with inaccurate and underthrown balls smattered throughout the film.

The other, Olsen’s usage was radically changed, with a 33 and 41-yard completions, notably with Olsen sinking downfield in his routes to try to maximize yardage. While this and the previous week had mixings of each style, the change between the weeks was very noticeable. For example, take a look at this play.

While looking very ordinary it leaped out on film for me when I went back to it. Notice how towards the end of the route, he is still drifting downfield to try to maximize the catch yardage. This opens up an underneath area, allowing the defender to undercut the route and break up the play. This is very typical of a speed receiver attempting to turn one loose, but for Greg Olsen, this was an anomaly.  

With Kyle Allen, and as the season got on, Greg Olsen slowly became settled into the big fundamental role. That is to say, the top priority was the catch.  He became so useful I charted that he completed at least one catch for each of these routes. He was successful across the entire route tree.

Here is a look at a drag in the mid/late section of the year:

Despite a perfect YAC opportunity, and many speedy WRs (like Deebo Samuel (SF), or Tyreek Hill (KC)) often scan the field during the catching process to maximize the YAC opportunities. However, in this and all situations, the catching and possession was the primary focus of Olsen. This possession style lent itself to the shorter game, especially favoring a few short field combos, such as Tare or Curl-Flats.

The ideathat Olsen started to be more conservative with the catch did not mean that hewas limited within his routes, he just ran each of those routes with his ownstyle.

Here is a deep speed out, sometimes called a Banana, where Olsen prioritizes the catch over YAC within a big play.

Instead ofreaching out with 1 hand to attempt to stay up, Olsen smartly dives to ensure agood catch. This GIF may make you think ‘so what? That was simple’ and this iswhy he is such a good Fundamental player. He makes it a simple operation bylooking back early instead of pushing for additional room. He manages his bodywell in case anybody is blazing down on him from a deep position, it’s a perfectshield over the ball. It looks incredibly routine but routine yardage gainingis a godsend in today’s NFL.

Now what separates Olsen from serviceable is that once he has completed the fundamentals, he isn’t done. Take a look at this great effort for first down

After a solid 5 yard hitch, he covers up and works hard to get the first down, while constantly securing the ball well and having great awareness about where the first down is. a really nice athletic play and after being spun around initially it would’ve been easy to give himself up on the 2nd hit, as some last year veterans tend to.

In terms of his other skills, more specifically blocking, here what I saw.

This was anexample of a good play by Olsen, and demonstrates his fundamental first, flashynext style. The assignment here is to seal off the edge, with Thomas outside toset that edge. It creates a D-Gap run. Olsen does this well, but having createdthe seal he then deftly moves to the other side and widens the hole further toblock the linebacker who has flowed to the ball.

This concept is designed to create a 1v1 in the hole, but after Greg completes his assignment, he moves over to eliminate this and have the first contact as the ball is breaking the plane of the goal-line. A great heads up play by Greg.

In this play, Olsen is assigned to LB Kamalei Correa. Olsen is very effective at setting the edge, opening his inside shoulder to set a trap as Allen rolls out. After the block has been completed, Olsen makes sure not to over commit and commit a foul, instead leaking out and becoming a target. He helps create time and then options for Allen.

This onewas pulled back because of a penalty by a different player but it demonstratesa great versatility, especially within the mobility to get in and out of blockswell. The work after the catch is pretty good, and I fell he maximized theyards he could get while not compromising security. In this instance it’s a DE,but Olsen acquits himself nicely, with a nice wide base and good flexibility sohe doesn’t get pushed over by the bull rush, once again showing his insideshoulder and making sure to neither give up outside leverage, nor tip off arollout with an aggressive move outside.

In additionto running every route under the sun and creating catching opportunities withall of them, Olsen was very capable in different positions too. He was used alot in the Y position, at the end of the line, typically where you would find aTE

But he wasalso very proficient in the Y-Flex, where he is in a 2 point stance, and a fewyards away from the end of the line. I also saw some appearances as the topmember of a stack combo throughout the year, as well as a full on wide out fora couple of red zone plays.

Here is the spreadsheet of every attempt by Olsen, and my thoughts on all of them

And here is an imgur Album with all the gifs in this Article, along with my other one.

What does this mean for Seattle?

For 7 Million a year, Seattle has managed to get an amazing locker room presence, and a fundamentally great Tight End. Some may believe he has Health issues but in 2019 it didn’t seem to affect him too much, converting 34 of his 52 touches for first downs.

Now I wouldsay there are multiple players on the Seahawks that are big play masters, likeTyler Lockett. Greg Olsen is not that player, and you might not see hisinfluence on highlights or box scores all that much but for getting the ball tofavorable situations, like 2nd & 5 / 3rd & 1 / 2nd& 3, Greg Olsen will be invaluable.

  • Hewill add value in the running game, by creating lanes effectively.
  • Hewill add value in the pass protection using heavy chips, or protecting rollouts
  • Hewill add value in the short passing game as a good reliable pair of hands topick up yardage to create favourable situations
  • Hewill add value in the long passing game as a player that can run any routeeffectively.
  • Hewill add value as a valued locker room member and veteran leader of a young TEand receiver corps

I would say Olsen will be used effectively in much the same way as Luke Willson or Jacob Hollister, with nitty gritty pass protection mixed with short routes to keep ahead of the chains, with the occasional utilization in the deeper game.

Seahawks fans should be very happy about this signing.

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