Newest Pittsburgh Steeler Gunner Olszewski was an All-Pro returner in 2020. But he couldn’t make it two years in a row this past season. The difference? One trip to the end zone. Olszewski found paydirt two years ago on a punt return against the Los Angeles Chargers, but couldn’t replicate that moment in 2021.
His goal in 2022 is to return to the end zone. This time, doing it in a Steelers’ uniform.
Signed to a two-year deal over the weekend, Olszewski spoke with the media Monday and outlined this year’s goals.
“I don’t think I played at that same level [as 2020] or else I would’ve been first-time All-Pro again,” he said in a presser carried by the team’s YouTube channel. “I didn’t put any balls in the end zone. When you don’t score, I don’t think I played as good as I did in 2020. So I think what I need to do is make it to the end zone.”
Olszewski led the league in punt return average in 2020 with a remarkable 17.3 yards per return figure, highlighted by his 70-yard touchdown against the Chargers in a game where he scored his first – and so far, only – receiving touchdown, too. He became just the fourth player in NFL history to average more than 17 yards per return on 20+ tries and the first since Leodis McKelvin in 2012. Here’s the impressive list of names.
Highest Return Average NFL History, Single Season (20+ Punt Returns)
1. Billy Grimes – 19.1 (1950)
2. Leodis McKelvin – 18.7 (2012)
3. Gunner Olszewski – 17.3 (2020)
4. Devin Hester – 17.1 (2010)
Not bad to be mentioned in the same breath as Devin Hester.
Olszewski will serve as Ray-Ray McCloud’s replacement, who pounced on a two-year, $10 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Olszewski has done kicks and punts and as a former DB with seven special teams tackles a year ago, should help out on other phases of special teams.
As a return man, he outlined the most important traits to succeed at the job.
“It’s majority instincts. You have to get setup and read punts. The most important thing is catching the ball and securing possession for the offense. It’s instincts and it’s gameplan and it’s working with guys on that punt return or kick return unit. Being able to read blocks and run fast.”
Like many ex-Patriots’ receivers, Olszewski was a diamond in the rough. After growing up in Texas, he played football at Division II Bemidji State. He signed with the Pats as a UDFA and spent the past three years with them. But New England opted against tendering him this offseason, allowing him to sign with any team.
In fact, Olszewski made his NFL debut in 2019 against the Steelers, a Week 1 blowout victory for the Pats. Now, his mission is to help the Steelers win. And a trip to the end zone in the return game would do just that.