Panthers' Greg Olsen one of the NFL's best vertical threats at tight end

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he needed to find more ways to get Greg Olsen involved in the offense after the Pro Bowl tight end had only one catch on three targets in the opener.

Mission accomplished.

Olsen was targeted 25 times in the past two games. He has 14 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in Sunday’s 27-22 victory over New Orleans.

Outside of New England’s Rob Gronkowski, few -- if any -- tight ends are playing better.

Few tight ends also are better at stretching the field vertically than Olsen. He ranks second in the NFL on tight end vertical throws of 20 yards or longer.

Olsen had two catches – one for 27 yards and another for 52 --that traveled more than 20 yards in the air against New Orleans. The 27-yarder was a one-handed snag that would have made New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. proud.

“Historically speaking, stretch vertical is the area where tight ends have the least statistical impact," ESPN Insider analyst KC Joyner said. “So to post quality numbers here is a major positive, especially for a team that has very little else in the way of a downfield target."

Since 2012, only Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham has more catches on passes thrown at least 10 yards than Olsen. Olsen has 92 for 1,645 yards and nine touchdowns.

Only Graham since 2012 has more total receiving yards among tight ends than Olsen, who has 2,883.

“I don’t get wrapped up in catches and fantasy football," said Olsen, who against the Saints became the first Carolina tight end with more than 125 yards receiving and two touchdowns in one game.

“It’s not the way I view the tight end position. I take a lot of pride in impacting the game with or without the ball. That’s something that only a few guys in the league can do that."

What goes unnoticed in Olsen’s development into a premier tight end is his blocking.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera reminded the Panthers haven’t had a true blocking tight end since Ben Hartsock in 2013.

“Greg is not Hartsock, but Greg is a very competitive blocker," Rivera said. “He’s smart. He understands leverage. He puts himself in position to seal guys off, cut guys off or knock guys down. He does that very well."

There’s not much Olsen doesn’t do well. That’s why he’ll be a big part of Tampa Bay’s defensive game planning for Sunday as he is for all opponents.

Figuring out where Olsen will line up is almost as tough as covering him.

Since the opener, the Panthers have figured out how to get Olsen the ball.

“Whether or not he’s set or motioning, we try to keep teams off balance that way," Shula said. “... If there is a defensive coordinator that is trying to stop Greg, we’ve got enough talent in other areas that’s going to help us move the ball and get points on the board."