Will Carolina Panthers Tight End Greg Olsen Set Career Highs in 2014?

Ryan LesterSenior Writer IJune 6, 2014

Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen (88) is caught by New York Jets' Dawan Landry (26) during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Mike McCarn/Associated Press

The past two seasons have been the most productive ones in Greg Olsen's career. In 2012, he caught 69 passes for a career-high 843 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, he set a career high with 73 catches for 816 yards and six touchdowns. In 2009, Olsen set his career high with eight touchdowns. Will those record fall in 2014?

You have to like Olsen’s odds to set a new high-water mark in at least two of those three categories.

Olsen has really developed a nice rapport with Cam Newton. He has received 104 and 109 targets over the past two seasons. That number should also grow in 2014, as the Panthers had some serious turnover in the wide receiver department.

Steve Smith, the longtime face of the franchise, will now be catching passes from Joe Flacco for the Baltimore Ravens. His 64 receptions and 109 targets will be sorely missed, but his loss of production pales in comparison to the leadership he provided. Smith had just 745 yards and four touchdowns last year. Olsen will be the new alpha dog of the receiving corps.

Brandon LaFell has moved on to the New England Patriots. He caught 49 of 88 targets last year. He never quite gave the Panthers the No. 2 receiver needed to take pressure off Smith. LaFell had 627 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Ted Ginn’s 36 catches and 68 targets will also need to be replaced. Ginn had 556 yards and five touchdowns.

So what did Carolina do to replace this trio of wideouts? Not much. They brought in Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant to provide some veteran leadership. Cotchery caught 46 passes for 602 yards and 10 touchdowns last year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cotchery will turn 32 later this month and has never been considered a true No. 1 receiver. Avant, who turned 31 in April, caught 38 passes for 447 yards and two touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s nothing more than a possession receiver.

Kelvin Benjamin was selected by the Panthers with the 28th pick in this year’s draft out of Florida State. He caught 54 passes for the Seminoles for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. Benjamin is 6’5″ and 235 pounds. He’ll have his struggles as a rookie, but he should be a popular target in the red zone.

Given that cast of characters, don’t be surprised if Newton locks in on Olsen early and often. I wouldn’t be surprised with 128 targets (eight per game). If he can have the same completion rate, that would net around 84 receptions. With a career average of 11.0 yards per catch, Olsen could have approximately 924 yards. I could see him surpassing both of those numbers.

I’m not as certain that Olsen will top eight touchdowns. Olsen has had at least five touchdowns in four of the past six seasons. He had his eight in 2009 and six last year. Olsen is steady. It’s possible he can match the eight or do even better, but, given his track record, it is not probable.

The Panthers have a tendency to run the ball when they get near the goal line. Plus, Benjamin could be getting the jump balls. Even if Olsen doesn’t set a new high in touchdowns, he’s a virtual lock to get at least five. Olsen should be set to have a career year.

Also check out Lester's Legends' early fantasy football rankings.