If you had to list the Panthers’ most important players, Greg Olsen would be in everyone’s top five. Ever since his trade from the Chicago Bears in 2010, Olsen has provided his best years for the Panthers and in 2015 he became the first tight end in NFL history to record three straight 1,000 yard seasons. But Olsen is beginning to show wear and tear as he enters his age-33 season. Last season, he spent a majority of his time off the field as he dealt with a nagging foot injury. The injury showed to Panthers fans that Olsen may not have long left in the National Football League.
So it made complete sense that the Panthers would look to pursue a second option in the tight end option When Olsen was off the field last year, Ed Dickson came in but he was only productive in spurts. When Dickson could not provide the impact Olsen would have had, the offense slowed considerably. Dickson has now moved on to the Seattle Seahawks which left the Panthers without a true backup tight end. So addressing the need for a quality backup tight end was a priority for the Panthers come the NFL Draft. With the first pick in the fourth round, The Panthers found their future tight end in the University of Indiana product Ian Thomas and the selection was met with praise from both fans and analysts.
Before he enrolled with Indiana, Thomas starred with Nassau Community College in Long Island, New York. In his sophomore year in junior college, Thomas amassed 433 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. After that season he transferred to Indiana and although he had a minor role, still showed the ability to NFL scouts that he could excel in the NFL.
Thomas, a 2017 Big Ten All-Honorable-Mention, has drawn comparisons to Antonio Gates due to his great physical size, solid catching ability, and underrated speed. Standing at 6’4 and 259lbs, Thomas ran a solid 4.74 40 yard dash at the combine. Having that combo of speed and size in the tight end position could spell great things for the Panthers if Thomas and quarterback Cam Newton develop chemistry. With weapons such as DJ Moore and Devin Funchess already in the fold, Thomas could slot in and provide another tall option for Newton down the middle, an option that Cam will be sure to love.
But before Thomas can take over the NFL, he is still an unfinished product at the tight end position. Draft scouts pointed to his rawness as the weakest part of the tight end’s game through Thomas’ limited route running and the need for additional reps during tight end drills. But Thomas can take his time honing his craft behind one of the greatest tight ends that the NFL has to offer. Learning from Greg Olsen will push Thomas to new heights both on and off the field.
If Thomas can learn quickly from Olsen’s guidance and showcase glimpses of talent this coming season that would be a major plus for the Panthers. Norv Turner, the Panthers offensive coordinator, should look to how he can adapt Thomas into his offense as he eases into Greg Olsen’s role. Thomas has the physical makeup of a top-tier tight end in the NFL and if he can translate that into results, the Panthers will have struck gold deep in the NFL Draft.