The horse has been beaten, kicked, tossed around and buried in the ground this offseason in regards to the Carolina Panthers’ receiver depth. However, the leading receiver from 2013 – Greg Olsen, is healthy, still in his prime and will be one of Cam Newton‘s favorite targets in 2014.
The 29-year old Olsen has enjoyed success since arriving in Carolina via a trade with the Chicago Bears during the 2011 offseason.
In his first season with the Panthers, Olsen racked up 540 yards and five touchdowns in Rob Chudzinski‘s dual-TE look offense. Olsen and ex-Panther Jeremy Shockey helped support Newton in his rookie season as solid check-down receiving targets.
Chudzinski’s high-octane Air Coryell offense was replaced with Mike Shula‘s wrinkle on the blueprint last season, as the latter prefers a more conservative, possession-based offense. The two-tight end look was not used nearly as much in 2013, but the recent hiring of Senior Offensive Assistant, John Ramsdell should see us shift back to more utilization of tight ends in our offense.
Enter Greg Olsen into the Pro Bowl conversation.
Olsen has been a steady producer over his first seven seasons in the league, though he is often left out of conversations involving top tight ends from around the league. He has a blue-collar work ethic and is a strong leader in the locker room.
The former Miami Hurricane standout is equally adept at blocking down as he is ripping off a 30-yard reception down the seam. After looking at the 2013 numbers, his relationship with QB Cam Newton strengthened as the season wore on.
Olsen was the Panthers’ leading receiver (yes, more than Steve Smith) with 816 yards and six touchdowns during the 2013 season. He was also fifth overall in the league amongst tight ends with 73 receptions. The closest Olsen has come to having the prefix, “All-Pro” attached to his name came when he was a second-team alternate in 2009.
In order to make the 2014 All-Pro list, Olsen will have to compete with 2013 recipients: Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, and Julius Thomas. One or more of these players will have to have down seasons, in addition to fending off players like Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz.
Olsen was recently ranked seventh overall amongst tight ends in the NFL by Matt Miller at Bleacher Report. Olsen is clearly running with the big dogs and he couldn’t be in a better situation to explode in 2014 than he is here in Carolina with Cam Newton.
When Newton scans the field at the line of scrimmage, Olsen is the only familiar jersey number from last season. While Cam gets comfortable developing a rapport with his new receiver additions – Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood, and Ed Dickson, look for him to rely on Olsen often.
At 6’5″ and 250-pounds, Olsen presents a strong target that has good hands and is very creative at getting open. Once the ball is in his hands, Olsen is athletic enough to eek out the tough yards, as well as battle in the red zone.
With several years still left in front of him, Olsen shows no signs of slowing down.
The departure of Steve Smith, leaves a leadership role amongst the offense on the table for Olsen’s taking.
Greg Olsen might not be in the mold of a Jimmy Graham or Julius Thomas, but he is a steady producer. Cam Newton is on the verge of having a stellar All-Pro season in ’14 and Olsen will be riding shotgun all year.
Newton loves to extend the play and Olsen will be his safety valve. Olsen and Newton have always had chemistry and that will not change this season. Look for Olsen to put up a solid 850-900 yards and 8-10 touchdowns. Olsen sees his opportunity this year to pounce on touches and produce at a high clip.
Greg Olsen has been a fan favorite in Carolina and he will rightfully earn his first Pro-Bowl appearance this season. While the spotlight thus far has been on the arrival of rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin and other veteran receivers, Olsen is the receiver that will shine in 2014.