There is no sense arguing about who the best tight end in the NFL is.
It is, without a doubt, New England’s Rob Gronkowski. He’s the biggest, fastest and strongest tight end in the league. He also is the most prolific. It’s been that way for several years and that’s not going to change. Gronkowsi isn’t going anywhere, except to more Pro Bowls. He pretty much has made tight end into a glamour position.
But, along the way, there is another question that has to be asked: Who’s the second-best tight end in the league?
The answer is pretty simple. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Carolina’s Greg Olsen clearly is next in line. He’s only been to the Pro Bowl twice but that has more to do with playing for a relatively small-market team than anything else. If Olsen played in a bigger market, he might get some recognition as the league’s best tight end. If Olsen played in New England’s offense, his numbers might be as good as Gronkowski’s.
Just look at what Olsen has done.
He has led the Panthers in receptions and receiving yards each of the last three season. He’s been steady as can be as the Panthers have gone from a receiving corps led by Steve Smith to one led by Kelvin Benjamin and, potentially, Devin Funchess. With Benjamin missing all of last year because of a knee injury, Olsen led the Panthers with 77 catches for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns.
He was quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target last year. Even with a healthy Benjamin back this year, things might not change very much. Olsen has been bothered by a back injury through much of the preseason, but all indications are he should be back at full strength for the start of the regular season.
“It’s one of those things, he’s going to gradually work his way back into it,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re not in any hurry as far as he’s concerned. We know what Greg is and what he brings to us.’’
It’s easy to see what Olsen brings to the Panthers. During the last three seasons, he has accounted for 36.9 percent of the team’s receptions with 23 and 25.4 percent of its yards with 3,744. He also has accounted for 23.1 percent of the team’s touchdown catches with 19.
Those numbers might not be up there with Gronkowski’s, but they’re better than any other tight end has put up. With Benjamin back, opposing defenses might not be able to put out enough energy to slow Olsen down.
With Olsen at full strength and a healthy corps of receivers, it’s not that difficult to imagine what might happen.
Olsen’s going to put up big numbers. He might be the second-best tight end in the league after Gronkowski. If things go right, he might even be the best tight end in the league. Remember, Tom Brady will miss the first four games due to a suspension. That might cut into Gronkowsi’s numbers.
Newton will have Olsen for all 16 games, and if he’s healthy, the Panthers’ tight end could climb to the top of the positional mountain in 2016-17.