With free agency and the NFL Draft still further down the road and the 2018 season well behind us, it provides us a good time to break down each position for the Carolina Panthers. 2018 was a strange season for Ron Rivera’s squad. Halfway through the year, they were a legit contender. But an unforeseen slump in the second half put the Panthers at 7-9 and out of the playoffs to end the year.
While it may have felt like all hell broke loose, there were still plenty of positives to take away from the season. Let’s take a look at how the Panthers tight ends did in 2018.
A Review on the Carolina Panthers Tight Ends in 2018
The Grizzly Vet: Greg Olsen
2018 Stats: 27 receptions on 38 targets, 291 yards, four touchdowns in nine games
2017 Stats: 17 receptions on 38 targets, 191 yards, one touchdown in seven games
The truth of the matter is, Greg Olsen is not getting any younger. Entering the 2018 season, the 12-year veteran was looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2017 season in which he played in less than half the team’s games. However, injuries once again plagued Olsen’s season in 2018 as the tight end fractured his foot in the first game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys.
After missing four weeks, Olsen returned to action and provided quality snaps for the Panthers offense. Where he excelled the most was in the red zone. He proved to be Cam Newton’s most reliable target always getting open, making it an easy throw for his quarterback. None were bigger than his touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles late in the fourth quarter. The reception capped off a 21-point fourth quarter comeback for the Panthers as they were able to beat the Eagles in shocking fashion.
CAM BROUGHT ‘EM BACK
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 21, 2018
While that was Olsen’s most important touchdown, his most impressive catch came at a later date when the Panthers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Eight. The three-time Pro Bowler made a phenomenal catch down the seam in the red zone showing everyone that when he’s healthy, he can still be a nightmare to opposing defensive backs.
This catch was ???
— NFL (@NFL) November 4, 2018
Unfortunately, Olsen re-injured his foot and tore his plantar fascia during Week 12’s game against Tampa Bay and was placed on injured reserve. The tight end has contemplated retirement but has not made anything official. If Olsen does choose to return to the Panthers next season, his focus should be on becoming a playmaker on limited snaps and mentoring the young tight end(s). With his durability declining, Olsen will have to learn to be a factor in the offense while receiving fewer snaps so he can be available for a potential playoff run. At the same time, mentoring Ian Thomas and any other young tight end on the roster will be important since 2019 may be Olsen’s last.
2018 Overall Grade: B
2019 Predictions: 40 receptions on 49 targets, 380 yards, and three touchdowns
The Young Star in the Making: Ian Thomas
2018 Stats: 36 receptions on 49 targets, 333 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games
2017 Stats: N/A (Rookie year in 2018)
Thomas was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 draft and many scouts around the league considered him a project player. He only recorded 28 receptions in two seasons at Indiana but he had all the physical attributes you see in today’s playmaking tight ends. Ideally, the Panthers would have liked to use the rookie sparingly in 2018 and have him sit and learn behind Olsen, but the injuries to Olsen catapulted Thomas into the lineup sooner.
The rookie showed off his many talents in the preseason and proved he could hang with the guys at the next level. When Olsen got hurt, however, it wasn’t a smooth transition for Thomas into the starting role. It took quite some time for the rookie to get comfortable in the offense. When Olsen returned, Thomas saw little to no playing time but was thrust back into the starting role when Olsen hit injured reserve.
Thomas finished the season strong after recording nine receptions and 77 yards against the Cleveland Browns and then hauling in a touchdown in each of the final two regular season games. Both touchdown catches were highly contested but Thomas was able to display his superior athletic ability in hauling in both.
— Stu Jackson (@StuJTH) December 23, 2018
Thomas is only 22 years old so the sky is the limit for him. He will have to improve his route-running and his ability to find the open holes in the zones for next season. He could also improve his run blocking ability to help out the Panthers running backs on the edge. If he can add those to his skill set, he can become a very reliable piece to the Panthers offense for years to come.
2018 Overall Grade: C+
2019 Predictions: 46 receptions on 60 targets, 420 yards, and five touchdowns
The Road Block: Chris Manhertz
2018 Stats: two receptions on five targets, 52 yards and one touchdown in 16 games
2017 Stats: two receptions on four targets and 17 yards in 16 games
Chris Manhertz, or ‘Blistex’ as Newton likes to call him, may not be the guy who fills up the stat sheet but he is well-liked in the Panthers locker room. Manhertz has taken the role of ‘blocking specialist’ and has done the dirty work the past two seasons in the Panthers offense. 2018 was no different, but Carolina’s coaching staff has been impressed with Manhertz’s abilities and rewarded the 26-year old with a two-year extension this off-season.
His lone highlight of the season came against the New Orleans Saints in the Monday Night game when running back Christian McCaffrey threw the ball to a wide-open Manhertz on a trick play.
QB22 to Chris Manhertz ??? pic.twitter.com/Slb5CTFeAt
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 18, 2018
Manhertz should look to improve his receiving abilities and become a more reliable passing option this off-season. With Olsen’s injury proneness and Thomas’ youth, Manhertz may get to see plenty of playing time in 2019 as he did in 2018.
2018 Overall Grade: C
2019 Predictions: four receptions on six targets, 47 ya, ds and one touchdown