Well, the latest can’t be construed as a “guarantee," but head coach Ron Rivera had a very strong answer Monday when asked if tight end Greg Olsen could be as productive as New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.
For context, Gronkowski had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I think he can be right in there with them,’’ Rivera said. “This will be his first real opportunity with us to step up and be the starting tight end and be the guy. You watch him catch footballs and you watch him run routes and you see those traits that say you can fit right into that group. We’re excited about it.’’
That may sound a little grandiose, especially when you consider that Olsen had 45 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns last season. But I get Rivera’s point and I don’t think he’s totally off base.
First off, Olsen shared time with Jeremy Shockey last season. Shockey had 37 catches, but he hasn’t re-signed with the Panthers and that doesn’t seem likely. Project those 37 catches over to Olsen and it at least puts him in the same ballpark as Graham and Gronkowski.
But there’s more than that. Olsen was traded to the Panthers from Chicago last year and got thrown right into coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton also was picking up the scheme on the fly.
Olsen and Newton have had a full offseason in the system. Plus, Chudzinski’s a former tight ends coach, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s put in a few more wrinkles for Olsen.