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Tracking Translation: Is Olave the Saints’ WR1 of the Future?

Is the #Saints’ Chris Olave the best wide receiver in this rookie class? The statistics say so, but does the film agree? Grind the tape with @FFB_Vern to evaluate Chris Olave and his translation to the #NFL.

What should we think of Chris Olave at the apex of the season? The Saints’ rookie receiver leads the team in targets, receptions, yards, and yards per game. Some of this is due to a lack of other options, as evidenced by Alvin Kamara’s receiving production being second in the same categories. It is tempting to believe that Olave has indeed translated his skills, thus becoming a future fantasy WR1. The film can get us closer to the truth; is he the real deal?

Statistical Comparison

Let’s look at how Olave has compared to other rookies in the 2022 classes of week 9: 

  • 1st in yards per game (10th in NFL among WRs)
  • 1st in targets (10th)
  • 1st in receptions (17th)
  • 1st in 1st downs (15th)
  • 1st in 40+ yard plays (13th)
  • 1st in receiving yards (8th)

Statistically, per PFF, he is the best rookie wide receiver in this class which correlates with the data in @timbmartens’ article gauging rookie receivers. With that said, one stat catches my eye: catch rate. Currently sitting at 59.7%, this could be a cause for concern on the surface. This forces us to scrutinize his incompletions. 

Route distribution

Chris Olave has a pretty diverse route tree which was expected to carry over from college. The following were the bulk of his routes run as of Week 8:

  • Hitch – ~21%
  • Go (“Nine”) – ~17%
  • Out – ~11%
  • Seam – ~7%
  • Corner – ~6%
  • Dig – ~6%
  • Post – ~5%
  • Slant – ~5%
  • Over – ~4%

The Hitch and the Go routes are a nice combination, but I want to see an increase in Digs and Slant routes, given his downfield ability, which affords him a nice cushion in most cases. Here is what his target distribution looks like:

  • Hitch – ~21%
  • Go (“Nine”) – ~9%
  • Out – ~20%
  • Dig – ~6%
  • Drag – ~3%
  • Slant – ~3%

Nine percent of targets came on Go routes despite running them 21% of the time. This isn’t surprising, but we should take a closer look. We need a better idea of “why” the numbers are showing this way. Is he not getting open? If so, why? Or is it a quarterback problem?

The more intriguing routes to watch will be those QB-friendly in-breaking routes like the Dig, Slant, and Drag. Personally, I am interested to find out how the route distribution isn’t a little heavier in this area. While he has the capability as a downfield threat, diverse route runners can change the game when used in a more varied way.

What We Are Scouting 

If you remember, back to the opening Tracking Translation article for wide receivers, we were looking to answer a few questions. 

  • Can he sustain the quickness advantage he enjoyed in college?
  • Will his mental processing speed allow him to play fast at the next level?
  • Will he and Winston be able to develop that deep-ball chemistry?

Well, the last question will largely go unanswered as New Orleans continues to roll with Andy Dalton. We can still assess the other questions fairly well, regardless of who is at quarterback.

The Film

Quickness and Explosiveness

Preseason Week 2 vs. Green Bay

Olave was putting some evidence of his quickness and explosiveness, translating early on in the preseason. At the bottom of the frame, Olave faces Kiondre Thomas, who is pressed up with outside leverage in a Cover 2 Man look. Olave’s quickness in his jab step to attack Thomas’ leverage forces Thomas’ initial step toward the sideline. The cornerback’s response is demanded by the nature of Cover 2 due to the fact that he has safety help he wants to utilize. We see Olave’s explosiveness allows him to stack, and he works through the cornerback’s attempt to get physical using a shoulder reduction as he accelerates. He releases inside, which would be playing right into the safety, so what happened?

This route combination concept was a Hi-Lo Sail concept where Olave streaks up the field, and Taysom Hill runs an intermediate Out with the running back releasing to the Flat. The depth of Hill’s route is just beyond the linebacker’s Zone responsibility, where he becomes responsible for the running back. This forces the safety to come up to cover Hill, leaving Thomas isolated on Olave.

Ian Book missed this opportunity to be aggressive. When Book pulls the trigger, the safety was flat-footed and out of position to be able to impact Olave, but I digress… The point of all this is to see his quickness and explosiveness. However, that was preseason against a young player who is currently not on an NFL team.

Week 3 vs. Carolina

Here is a play from Week 3 against Carolina. Olave does show his mental processing and speed here versus former first-round pick C.J. Henderson who plays a bail technique in Cover 6. Henderson is only responsible for his deep quarter of the field in this situation, limiting his responsibility to Olave. 

Olave shows some savvy as he stems aggressively to reduce Henderson’s cushion while also reducing his inside leverage. As Henderson bails upfield with his back to the sideline, it confirms Zone for Olave, who then adjusts his stem to Henderson’s blindspot. Henderson does turn upfield quickly and engage his makeup speed, but if not for a slightly underthrown ball, this is six. Olave displays some competitive toughness and concentration to catch this ball through contact.

Here is another example against Carlton Davis in Week 3. In a similar situation, Olave simply attacks off coverage with his explosiveness and overwhelms any speed Davis has. He tracks this ball extremely well and extends his body to catch the ball. I’m not crazy about the ball security, but he was called down by contact instead of a catch and fumble, as it appeared to be in real time.

Release Concerns on Go Routes

Here is an area where Olave needs to grow for Go routes to have more efficacy in his game. He leans on his explosiveness to execute speed releases when facing Press coverage. Unfortunately, this exposes his limitations on this particular route. We need to see more variety in his release arsenal. Perhaps a more aggressive jab step that is outside of the defensive back’s frame. When executed in a disciplined and balanced fashion, it enables explosiveness off the jab step. This could create more effective downfield opportunities.

Mental Processing Speed

Week 7 vs. Arizona

Olave displays his mental processing speed very well against Zone situations. Olave is at the top of the frame facing a Cover 2 Man look. The CB is in soft Press with an inside shade, indicating a desire to force him to the boundary. Olave demonstrates an excellent ability to modify his pace in stride such that it causes DBs to hesitate as he bursts upfield. This results in a stack where Olave then breaks inside on the Dig.

As Olave looks for the ball, he recognizes Dalton bailing from the pocket. Olave shows high-end mental processing speed and change of direction to work toward the sideline and make this play. Another element we should take notice of is how he angles his path to work back to the ball. This prevents being undercut by the trailing defender, demonstrating an awareness uncommon in rookie receivers.

Week 4 vs Minnesota

This Red Zone situation displays more of Olave’s football IQ. In this 3×1 formation at the top of your screen, Olave is the “Z” receiver. The slightly detached Y-wing is Adam Trautman, who is just behind Landry. Minnesota enjoys a slight 4:3 advantage over this WR group.

Landry runs a Drag route which takes the inside linebacker with him, and Trautman runs a Corner route to the back pylon getting the safety’s attention. This leaves Olave 1 on 2, but this is no issue. Sullivan (closest cornerback to LOS) fans out to get outside of Olave. Olave presses up beyond Sullivan, then breaks down as though to set a natural pick preventing Patrick Peterson from engaging Trautman. This action gets Peterson to hesitate just enough for Olave to explode inside with excellent timing to use Trautman’s route as a natural pick of the safety. Olave then shows off his competitive toughness by catching this ball through contact over the middle. This small sample size of evidence in the red zone is encouraging to know that Olave CAN succeed here despite his lighter build.

The tape has been showing consistency in his mental processing speed. This is an indicator of his accelerated adjustment to the speed of the NFL. Of course, this is based on what I see on tape. If “the game slows down” for him in year two, Olave will be a bonafide stud that you want to keep on your rosters for the foreseeable future.

Catch Rate

What about that 59.7% catch rate, though? Should we be concerned? The tape tells a more complete story on the catch rate. Of the 29 incompletions (including interceptions) observed, Olave could be held accountable for six. The other 23 were a combination of over/underthrows, balls thrown behind or into the dirt, or even throwaways with which Olave was credited with the target. We could look at this through an adjusted completion percentage lens where Olave would sit at ~86%. With that said, it does not completely absolve Olave. He still is showing areas where he needs to grow. The good thing is it is a solid bet that those aspects of his game will improve over time, meaning excellent upside for Dynasty GMs that enjoy his presence on their rosters.

Conclusion

Short answer: Olave has surely translated most of his college-dominant skillset into the NFL. He still has more upside despite being the best rookie receiver from a statistical standpoint. The film agrees with the statistics in this area as well. What should we do as managers/non-managers of Olave? As a manager, there is no way on earth you should consider selling. Probably obvious, but still worth saying. With that said, how do non-managers even approach an acquisition? To the 

Dynasty GM Trade Browser

I would 100% make this trade, even if it is a slight long-term loss. Olave’s situation is better simply due to the non-rushing nature of either of his quarterback options. Drake London is showing some good things, but if the offense in Atlanta continues to embrace mobile quarterback play, it could cap London’s upside. An extra second two years out is nothing you cannot recover later anyway.

Dynasty GM Trade Browser

This one is a little more difficult. It probably depends on your perception of your ownership experience with D.J. Moore. Objectively you are trading for three years of youth for a single-round downgrade in a 2023 pick. Personally, I would do this even though I haven’t felt the pain of D.J. Moore’s inconsistent production. If there were a better indication of Carolina truly improving their quarterback in the near future, I might hesitate a bit more. Otherwise, I pull the trigger.

Treylon Burks came off IR this week, so after a few weeks, we should be able to get a pulse on his progress. This is completely dependent on the passer situation, of course.

Until then, join the NerdHerd and use all the tools it offers, including DynastyGM and the Trade Browser, to stay ahead of the game. You can continue to follow me @FFB_Vern on Twitter for other fantasy thoughts and nuggets.

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