Time for Panthers' Olsen to shine

Dan Parr
Time for Panthers' Olsen to shine

Five years into his career, fantasy owners might be wondering if the stars will ever align for Panthers TE Greg Olsen. Will he ever truly break through and have the monster season he still seems capable of producing?

Could he be a late bloomer, joining the ranks of the elite fantasy tight ends in the Panthers’ high-powered offense? We don’t see him rubbing elbows with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, but that next tier of fantasy tight ends … Olsen could find his way there in 2012.

He teased us a bit in the first half of last season.

It seemed that fantasy owners who bet in preseason drafts that a change of scenery from Chicago to Charlotte would serve Olsen well were on to something through the first half of last season. He was on pace to make 60 catches for 720 yards and eight touchdowns at the midway point. It would have been the most productive season of his career had he kept up with that pace. His production dropped off, though.

He played in each of the final eight games, dealing with some injuries along the way and missing three starts after starting every game from Weeks 1-11, but Olsen made only five catches in the final five games, including zero grabs in the final two contests (he suffered a head injury and left the game in the first half of Week 17). He finished the season with 45 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns.

It was an improvement from his 2010 output with the Bears, when he had his lowest numbers since his rookie year, but it still left much to be desired. Olsen was the No. 17 tight end in fantasy football last season after finishing 22nd in ’10.

Heading into 2012, Olsen is not competing against the tight end who complemented him last season, Jeremy Shockey. He is still a free agent. The Panthers would like TE Gary Barnidge to factor as a pass catcher more this season, but he is not quite as much of a threat to Olsen’s touches as Shockey had been.

With Shockey out of the mix and a full offseason of working with QB Cam Newton, Olsen has a great opportunity to deliver his best season yet.

I took a chance on him in Round 11 of a recent 12-team PFW fantasy mock draft after selecting Cowboys TE Jason Witten in Round Six. I’m not convinced waiting to take Olsen in Round 11 as my No. 1 tight end would not have been the wiser strategy.

For owners that miss out on Graham and Gronkowski in drafts this year, Olsen — the 11th-ranked tight end in PFW fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice’s preseason rankings — might be the low-end No. 1 fantasy tight end worth waiting for.

It is a familiar theme for owners that have followed him throughout his career — this really could be Greg Olsen’s year.