When Saints coach Sean Payton served as offensive coordinator for the Giants in 2000-02, he often kept tabs on a standout tight end in nearby Wayne, N.J.
That player was none other than Greg Olsen. As the Panthers’ tight end has progressed through an impressive college career at Miami and 10 NFL seasons, Payton’s admiration for Olsen’s skill set has only grown.
“You put him in line with a long line of players at Miami that have been outstanding tight ends,” Payton said during a teleconference Wednesday. “And I think his consistency, there’s just a grit factor with him that combined with his speed and his hands and his football IQ, you end up with one of the better tight ends, if not one of the top tight ends, in our game right now, clearly.”
Come Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, Payton will have to push his adoration for Olsen aside as his defense attempts to slow him down.
Accomplishing that feat hasn’t come easily for defenses this year. Through five games, Olsen’s 33 receptions and 516 receiving yards rank fifth and fourth, respectively, among all NFL pass catchers. He’s also second on the Panthers in receiving touchdowns with two.
Much of Olsen’s early season success came during Monday night’s 17-14 loss the Buccaneers, when he hauled in nine catches for 181 yards with Derek Anderson under center in place of Cam Newton. The effort helped Olsen surpass Wesley Walls for the most receiving yards by a Carolina tight end in a single game.
Now, with Newton set to potentially return from a concussion, Olsen will look to carry over his momentum against the Saints, against whom he has recorded 60 catches during his career, his most vs. any opponent.
A season ago, Olsen registered two of his best games against New Orleans, finishing with 17 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns across both contests. Olsen’s nine receptions against the Saints during a 41-38 road win on Dec. 6 marked his most of the season.
New Orleans has limited opposing tight ends to 148 receiving yards and one touchdown through its first four games. Having closely watched Olsen for more than a decade, Payton knows he’s always capable of finding holes in a defense.
“Well, no one is getting lost with him,” Payton said of Olsen’s knack for getting open. “It’s a credit to his skill set. He’s got all that grit you’re looking for. He’s willing to not only run routes, but he’s willing to do some of the other things that are necessary as a tight end. And yet, he can run and he’s very smart.”