The current state of the tight end position for the Carolina Panthers is a little thin going into 2020. The most notable omission is the prolific Greg Olsen. Greg and Carolina parted ways not too long after the conclusion of the 2019 season. He decided to take his talents to the Pacific Northwest signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Seahawks. Over the span of nine seasons with the Panthers, Olsen emerged as one of the top tight ends in the league. Before the arrival of Christian McCaffrey, Olsen was Cam Newton’s security blanket. Those two were a powerful one-two punch in the offense. The three-time pro-bowler finished in Carolina with 6,463 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns. That production will be missed this season. Who will step up this year to fill the starting spot?
Ian Thomas is the obvious starter in 2020. The 2018 4th round selection out of Indiana has shown flashes here and there. But playing behind Greg Olsen for the past two seasons, you are not going to see a lot of touches. In Thomas’s two NFL seasons, he has averaged 9 yards per catch with 469 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. His blocking skills need some fine tuning. So, with the departure of Olsen and the Panthers not addressing the position in the draft, the time is right for Thomas to take advantage of the opportunity and become that every-week starter.
Behind Thomas is Chris Manhertz. In Manhertz’s 4 seasons with Carolina, he has 80 receiving yards with 1 touchdown. That lone touchdown was a thing of beauty though. It was a trick-play 50-yard pass from Christian McCaffrey in 2018. This past January he signed a two-year extension. Manhertz has more years in the league over Thomas, but Ian has been the go-to back-up the past two seasons. It is evident who the Panthers have more faith in.
The third option looked as though it would be former Browns and Jaguar, Seth DeValve. However, he was released with a non-football injury back in June after signing with the Panthers two and a half months prior. That slot most likely belongs now to Temarrick Hemingway. Injuries have robbed Hemingway of steady playing time throughout his four year career. The Panthers claimed him off waivers last season and he was placed on the practice squad. He signed a reserve/future contract with Carolina in December.
The Panthers have brought in what you would call camp bodies with the hopes of boosting the depth. Names include former XFL Tampa Bay Viper Colin Thompson, and undrafted rookies Giovanni Ricci out of Western Michigan and Cam Sutton out of Fresno State. Sutton has a chance to turn some heads. He has a big frame at 6 foot 6 and 226 pounds. He possess good ball handling skills being a former wide receiver.
With the thinking that Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady will bring a high-powered offensive scheme, there is a good chance that tight ends will play a big part. With limited NFL experience on the current roster at tight end, I would not be surprised if the Panthers bring in a veteran on the free agent market. Even if that ends up happening, I believe Carolina will roll with Ian Thomas to start week 1.