Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said on Jan. 3 that the staff would spend two weeks analyzing the team, looking to avoid hasty, emotional decisions. The Observer will do the same, position by position. Up next: Tight ends.
Three things to know
▪ Ol’ Faithful: Because of trusty veteran Greg Olsen, the Panthers’ status at tight end remains one of the best in the league. Olsen made history this year by becoming the first NFL tight end ever to have three consecutive 1,000-yards-receiving seasons. A bonus for Carolina? He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
▪ Seriously, he’s ol’ faithful: Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has been quarterback Cam Newton’s top target among all tight ends and receivers for two years, and was second behind receiver Kelvin Benjamin in 2014.
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▪ Time for a pupil? Olsen is also 31 years old, and while he seems to be extending his prime by sheer force of will, it might be time for Carolina to begin looking for his heir apparent. It would be ideal to have this player while Olsen is still on the roster – to show ‘em how it’s done.
On the roster
▪ Greg Olsen: What more can be said about Olsen? He is one of the best ever at his position and has proved an invaluable and dependable resource for Newton, his other teammates and even coach Ron Rivera.
▪ Ed Dickson: Dickson is also getting older (he’s 29), but unlike Olsen he has not seen much time on the field in his three years with Carolina. He has 37 catches for 370 yards, yet when need be is plenty servicable.
▪ Chris Manhertz: Carolina claimed Manhertz in October from New Orleans, but has yet to really see what he can do. Manhertz never played a down of college football before graduating in 2014 (he was a basketball player at Canisius), and mostly served in a blocking role in the little game action he saw while with New Orleans.
Free agent possibilities
▪ Few and far between: There are very few who could fill Olsen’s shoes, or complement him, who are also young enough to develop into the type of tenured guy Carolina would want. Trey Burton has turned into a steady target for Philadelphia Eagles rookie Carson Wentz at just 25 years old. With starter Zach Ertz slated to make a healthy return from injury, Burton may have built up his resume enough to be an intriguing option for Carolina.
▪ Jake Butt: Butt, who had high hopes of being the first tight end selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Eric Ebron in 2014, tore his ACL in Michigan’s Orange Bowl loss. The injury is sure to hurt his draft stock, making Butt a potential steal later. He was used more as a receiver than a blocker in Michigan’s offense, but proved he can play either role. Butt is big, sure-handed and runs good routes.
▪ Jordan Leggett: A tight end in the national-champion Clemson offense, Leggett had 739 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Leggett would be used well mostly in a receiving role in the NFL, and his draft stock rose this season to project him as a second or third round pick. It’s unlikely Gettleman and Co. use a pick that early on a tight end when Olsen is still such a threat and it’s not a position of need, but Leggett is a great prospect should he slip to a late round.
▪ Gerald Everett: If the Panthers shop for a tight end in the later rounds of the draft, Everett might be their guy. He is dynamic, fast, excellent at creating mismatches and will likely fly under the radar as he hails from South Alabama. At 6-foot-3 he is a few inches smaller than the leading tight ends. But Everett is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage and might wow some scouts leading up to the draft.
The bottom line
Olsen is tried, true and battle-tested, and he’s not going anywhere. But Carolina should start at least sniffing around for a talent who could take over for Olsen eventually.