Dependable Greg Olsen still losing popularity contests

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CHARLOTTE – This time last year, the Summer of Greg was in full swing.

A cameo on Comedy Central. An invite to the Quail Hollow Pro-Am. A spot behind the wheel of the pace car at the Sprint All-Star Race.

No Panthers player soaked up the post-Super Bowl glow more than tight end Greg Olsen.

Twelve months later, he describes his current offseason as "nothing too exciting." Which may explain why he was on Twitter last Monday night shortly after he landed 67th on the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2017 list. 

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That tweet makes it seem like Olsen was irked. But he doesn't take made-for-TV rankings all that seriously, right? 

"Listen, it's been the story of my career," he reiterated after finishing a preseason photo shoot. "That's kind of the comedy of the whole thing." 

So he was irked. 

Olsen doesn't name names, but you can understand if the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 1,000-yard seasons feels he should be more respected than say, Washington's Jordan Reed, who ranked two spots ahead of Olsen despite totaling just 686 yards last year.

"I think people are surprised once they figure out what (my) production is and what the stats say," Olsen said. "People are like, 'Wow, I never knew.'

"A lot of the popularity stuff goes to some of the other candidates, and that's fine, but when it comes to playing ball and playing tight end, there's nobody that's been able to do what I've done consistently over the last five, 10 years."

That's a good argument, but it's not entirely accurate. 

Since his trade to Carolina in 2011, Olsen ranks third among tight ends in both receptions and receiving yards. And since he came into the league with Chicago in 2007, Olsen's 622 catches and 7,365 yards are third-most behind the Cowboys' Jason Witten and the Chargers' Antonio Gates. 

But Olsen prides himself most on availability, and only Witten is his peer in that department. They've each played a full compliment of 96 games since 2011, and while Witten has made more consecutive starts than any tight end in NFL history, Olsen hasn't sat out since the first two games of his rookie season. 

But wait, there's more. 

Olsen is also: 

  • On a streak of three straight Pro Bowl seasons
  •   The first tight end with four straight 70-catch seasons since Jimmy Graham did it with the Saints from 2011-2014
  •   The first tight end with five straight seasons of at least 800 yards since Witten's run from 2007-2013
  •   6th all-time among tight ends in receptions
  •   8th all-time among tight ends in receiving yards
  •   One score away from cracking the all-time top-10 among tight ends in touchdowns
  •   The Panthers' receptions leader in each of the past four seasons
  •   The holder of the top five single-season receptions totals by a tight end in team history  

But according to whichever players actually filled out a ballot for this year's Top 100, Olsen is the league's fourth-best tight end behind Reed, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and New England's Rob Gronkowski. 

To be fair, Kelce did outpace Olsen by five receptions, 52 yards and a touchdown last year. And Gronkowski is arguably the most lethal non-quarterback in the NFL – when healthy. 

Which again brings us to the games played argument. Olsen went a perfect 64-of-64 the past four years. Meanwhile, Kelce played just 49 games while Reed and Gronkowski missed 18 and 19 games, respectively.

But it's pretty clear why Olsen never stands a chance in popularity contests. He's not a blogger's dream like Gronkowski or a reality show star like Kelce. 

"I'm not the guy on the field drawing a lot of attention," Olsen said, "and I'm not the guy off the field drawing a lot of attention." 

Yet it's not like you're a hermit, Greg. You do a good amount that gets your name and face out there. 

"But not the stuff that garners a ton of pub," he countered. "It's quiet stuff. It's background stuff. It's stuff that I enjoy doing, and that's fine. 

"It's never really been a big priority of mine to be noticed and all that, but people who know football – other coaches, players, they know." 

Cam Newton sure knows.

Since they both came to Carolina in 2011, Olsen has been his quarterback's best and most reliable target, catching 23 percent of Newton's career completions. But that dependence may finally lessen this season. Now when Newton drops back, his options will include draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel

"The more guys you have, the better," Olsen said. "If people want to dial in on me, there's going to be other guys that have one-on-one matchups, backs on linebackers and what not. Those are matchups in our favor. 

"And the difference between us and some other teams is you've still got to defend the run game. You've still got to guard (Jonathan Stewart). You've still gotta be able to have guys to tackle that big dude. And tackle Cam. And match up in the passing game with the backs. It's hard." 

It's too early to predict whether the new kids will help or hurt Olsen's numbers, but this longer, slower offseason has been a big battery charging opportunity for a guy heading into his 11th season. 

"This is as good as I've felt at this time of the year in probably a few years," said Olsen, who's fully recovered from an elbow injury that limited him late last year. 

With just two years left on his contract, the Panthers may soon have to decide whether to make a longer commitment to their most dependable player. Because even if many outside the Carolinas don't pay him much attention, Olsen's planning to break his record with a fourth straight 1,000-yard season. 

"There's no reason that I can't," he said. "I'll try like hell to keep being very productive and try to keep making plays that come my way and maybe if I do make four (in a row) people will take notice." That tweet makes it seem like Olsen was irked. But he doesn't take made-for-TV rankings all that seriously, right? 

"Listen, it's been the story of my career," he reiterates after finishing a preseason photo shoot. "That's kind of the comedy of the whole thing." 

So he was irked. 

Olsen doesn't name names, but you can understand if the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 1,000-yard seasons feels he should be more respected than say, Washington's Jordan Reed, who ranked two spots ahead of Olsen despite totaling just 686 yards last year.

"I think people are surprised once they figure out what (my) production is and what the stats say," Olsen says. "People are like, 'Wow, I never knew.'

"A lot of the popularity stuff goes to some of the other candidates, and that's fine, but when it comes to playing ball and playing tight end, there's nobody that's been able to do what I've done consistently over the last five, 10 years."

That's a good argument, but it's not entirely accurate. 

Since his trade to Carolina in 2011, Olsen ranks third among tight ends in both receptions and receiving yards. And since he came into the league with Chicago in 2007, Olsen's 622 catches and 7,365 yards are third-most behind the Cowboys' Jason Witten and the Chargers' Antonio Gates. 

But Olsen prides himself most on availability, and only Witten is his peer in that department. They've each played a full compliment of 96 games since 2011, and while Witten has made more consecutive starts than any tight end in NFL history, Olsen hasn't sat out since the first two games of his rookie season. 

But wait, there's more. 

Olsen is also: 

-On a streak of three straight Pro Bowl seasons
-The first tight end with four straight 70-catch seasons since Jimmy Graham did it with the Saints from 2011-2014
-The first tight end with five straight seasons of at least 800 yards since Witten's run from 2007-2013
-6th all-time among tight ends in receptions 
-8th all-time among tight ends in receiving yards
-One score away from cracking the all-time top-10 among tight ends in touchdowns
-The Panthers' receptions leader in each of the past four seasons
-The holder of the top five single-season receptions totals by a tight end in team history

But according to whichever players actually filled out a ballot for this year's Top 100, Olsen's the league's fourth-best tight end behind Reed, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and New England's Rob Gronkowski. 

To be fair, Kelce did outpace Olsen by five receptions, 52 yards and a touchdown last year. And Gronkowski is arguably the most lethal non-quarterback in the NFL – when healthy. 

Which again brings us to the games played argument. 

1. Olsen - 64
2. Kelce - 49
3. Reed - 46
4. Gronkowski - 45

It's pretty clear why Olsen never stands a chance in popularity contests. He's not a blogger's dream like Gronkowski or a reality show star like Kelce. 

"I'm not the guy on the field drawing a lot of attention," Olsen says, "and I'm not the guy off the field drawing a lot of attention." 

But it's not like you're a hermit, Greg. You do a good amount that gets your name and face out there. 

"But not the stuff that garners a ton of pub," he counters. "It's quiet stuff. It's background stuff. It's stuff that I enjoy doing, and that's fine. 

"It's never really been a big priority of mine to be noticed and all that, but people who know football – other coaches, players, they know." 

Cam Newton sure knows. 

Since they both came to Carolina in 2011, Olsen has been his quarterback's best and most reliable target, catching 23 percent of Newton's career completions. But that dependence may finally lessen this season. Now when Newton drops back, his options will include draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. 

"The more guys you have, the better," Olsen says. "If people want to dial in on me, there's going to be other guys that have 1-on-1 matchups, backs on linebackers and what not. Those are matchups in our favor. 

"And the difference between us and some other teams is you've still got to defend the run game. You've still gotta guard (Jonathan Stewart). You've still gotta be able to have guys to tackle that big dude. And tackle Cam. And match up in the passing game with the backs. It's hard." 

It's too early to predict whether the new kids will help or hurt Olsen's numbers, but this longer, slower offseason has been a big battery charging opportunity for a guy heading into his 11th season. 

"This is as good as I've felt at this time of the year in probably a few years," says Olsen, who's fully recovered from an elbow injury that limited him late last year. 

With just two years left on his contract, the Panthers may soon have to decide whether to make a longer commitment to their most dependable player. Because even if many outside the Carolinas don't pay him much attention, Olsen's planning to break his record with a fourth straight 1,000-yard season. 

"There's no reason that I can't," he says. "I'll try like hell to keep being very productive and try to keep making plays that come my way and maybe if I do make four (in a row) people will take notice."

Tight Ends: All-Time Receptions
Rank Player
Rec. Yds TDs
1 Tony Gonzalez 1,325
15,127 111
2 Jason Witten 1,089 11,888 63
3 Antonio Gates 897 11,192 111
4 Shannon Sharpe 815
10,060 62
5 Ozzie Newsome 662
7,980 47
6 Greg Olsen 622 7,365 52

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