Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the season and into the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR/KR Gunner Olszewski
Stock Value: Purchased
Reasoning: Amid a series of outside free agency signings, the Steelers addressed their return game with the addition of wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, who has been the New England Patriots’ return man over the last three seasons.
Gunner Olszewski is on the Steelers’ offseason roster right now for one reason: Because Kyle Shanahan saw something in Ray-Ray McCloud and the San Francisco 49ers were willing to pay more to see what they could do with it than Pittsburgh was.
With McCloud now out west, the Steelers needed to find another return man, so they got a former All-Pro returner in Olszewski, a former undrafted free agent out of the powerhouse Division II school of Bemidji State, which according to Pro Football Reference has produced a total of three NFL players, of which he is the most notable.
Olszewski was a restricted free agent this offseason. New England—which means Bill Belichick—chose not to give him a restricted free agent tender, making him eligible to sign with any team. The fact that he fumbled three times last season (five total in his three-year career, losing two) may be why.
In 2020, he led the NFL in punt return yards with 346, averaging 17.3 yards per return—boosted by a 70-yard touchdown—on just 20 returns. While he still put up a respectable 11.9-yard punt return average last season, his yardage total was down to 309. His kick return average for his career is 23.2 yards, which he has only done for the past two seasons. He put up nearly identical numbers in both years—18 returns for 418 and then 416 yards, with a long of 33 in 2020 and 37 in 2021.
Other than removing the fumbling from his game, the one thing you’d like to see more of from Olszewski is the ability to break off more long kick returns. But he also plays on the coverage units, and he does have 10 career tackles, including seven last year.
Whether or not he will see much time on offense remains to be seen. The Steelers were willing to use McCloud there where he previously had not been. Olszewski is only in his fourth year playing the wide receiver position. He was a cornerback in college and throughout his football life before the NFL.