The Seahawks found a logical answer at tight end on Tuesday, signing veteran Greg Olsen to a one-year deal. Olsen’s signing gives Seattle and Russell Wilson another reliable option, but it doesn’t tie up money (or snaps) long-term, should the snake-bitten Will Dissly stay healthy moving forward.
In 2019, injuries forced Jacob Hollister into a larger role than first expected, after he began the season on the Seahawks’ practice squad. Though Hollister performed admirably, it was still a tertiary piece at tight end forced into the main role. Olsen should be used in a similar fashion to Hollister in the passing game, but he’ll bring a much higher short-term upside to the role.
Over half (34) of Hollister’s 59 targets in 2019 came on flat, curl and drag routes, with another four coming on corner routes (his fourth-highest targeted route). In that regard, Olsen will seamlessly fit into Seattle’s offense—he excels over the middle of the field and on out-breaking routes (though he was more frequently targeted on out routes than corner routes with the Panthers). Hollister was shoehorned into a role last season and did a job for the Seahawks; now, Seattle can replicate Hollister’s usage with Olsen, and he should thrive.
In 2019, one of the most surefire connections the Seahawks had was Russell Wilson hitting Hollister in the flat off a play action bootleg. Flat routes made up 29 percent of Hollister’s receptions on the year, and Wilson had a 115.8 rating when targeting him in that area. Olsen will find similar success into the flats as Hollister. Even at his advanced age, Olsen has a clean release with little wasted movement—after the catch, he is quick to turn up field and maximize the yards after catch available.
Hollister found success on drag routes, in part, because Brian Schottenheimer schemes his receivers open well. Hollister was able to leak out undetected or utilize rub routes to get into space. The Panthers did similarly well in scheming Olsen open, using play fakes and misdirection to get him into space. When Olsen didn’t find himself with easy receptions as a result of scheme, he was superb at maintaining inside leverage on drags and other in-breaking routes, further enabling easy yardage.
Olsen’s intelligence against zone coverage and understanding of leverage extends to his targets on curl routes, where he can either sit down in space between two defenders or put his body between a defender and the football. During his time in Carolina, 65 percent of Olsen’s catches resulted in a first down—his ability to find space over the middle was a big part of that.
While Hollister’s quickness downfield, burst out of his cuts and ability to high point allowed him to find success on corner routes, Olsen was targeted more frequently on out routes. Similar to Hollister’s corner routes, when Olsen cut to the sideline on out routes he found separation with good burst out of his break and by getting his defender turned around.
Olsen will be able to come into the offense and seamlessly replicate Hollister’s usage on his highest-volume routes, bringing continuity to areas which became highly reliable in 2019. There are two further areas, however, where Hollister struggled or was not used last season that Olsen excels in.
Of course, Will Dissly’s complete skill set and reliability was sorely missed after he was lost for the season in Week 6. While Hollister helped Seattle to get by in 11 personnel and offered a steady presence in the receiving game, he was unable to replicate Dissly’s big-bodied target up the seam. Olsen will thrive with Wilson running vertical from tight end. He still has the quickness to get downfield and beat flat-footed linebackers and, similar to on curls, he has a wonderful understanding of when to slow down and find space between the underneath and over the top zone defenders.
To Hollister’s credit, he made a number of tough catches in 2019 and, after being traded to the Seahawks with a reputation as a player prone to injuries, took some big hits and hung in for Seattle. Though he played with obvious toughness, physicality wasn’t a big part of his game. After the catch, Hollister rarely broke tackles and extended the play, and even prior to the catch he wasn’t overly physical to create separation. Olsen marries Hollister’s ability to separate with quickness out of his break with physicality at the top of routes that’s more in line with what one would expect from a tight end. Crucially, he’s extremely tough at the catch point, as well.
The addition of Olsen will provide the Seahawks with a major upgrade from Hollister in the receiving game (and enable Hollister to be a luxury tertiary piece) as well as act as insurance for Dissly. Provided Seattle can get healthy seasons from two of their three tight ends, they should feel great about the position in 2020. After several seasons of injuries and under-performance at tight end, Olsen will be a welcome addition.