Over the last few days, the wide receiver room of the Pittsburgh Steelers has thinned out quite a bit, losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud. The latter of which was one of the better return men in the league, but the team acted quickly, replacing McCloud with 2020 First Team All-Pro Gunner Olszewski, formerly of the Patriots.
An undrafted cornerback out of tiny Division II Bemidji State, Olszewski definitely took the road less traveled on his quest to make it into the NFL. Oftentimes, less heralded players like him tend to get pigeon-holed into making a position switch, which is exactly the case here. In 2020, he led the league in punt return yards with 346, and a sterling 17.3 average. It dipped a bit last season, but he’s still one of the more feared return men in the league. His roadmap to Pittsburgh sort of caught him off guard, as he detailed in his introductory press conference today, as shared via the team’s YouTube channel.
“There wasn’t much of a conversation before, my agent had just called me when I was back home in Texas and told me, you know, Pittsburgh gave us a really good offer. I said well let’s go, a two-year deal, so it showed to me that they have a lot of interest in me. And being here for two years, that meant a lot to me. So there wasn’t much talk before. Now that I got to meet everybody and talk to everybody, I’m real excited.”
Upon first glance, he seems to fit the mold of the typical undersized and late-round/undrafted guys that his old coach, Bill Belichick, loved to assemble and mold into quality football players, like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, or Chris Hogan. However, he’s a bit more raw as a wide receiver, having only caught nine balls over the course of his three-year tenure in New England. He cited it hasn’t been as smooth a transition to wide receiver as he’d thought, after spending most of his football career backpedaling and mirroring receivers. However, he’s ready to do whatever special teams coach Danny Smith and offensive coordinator Matt Canada ask of him.
“We haven’t talked much about X and O’s but I’m looking forward to just putting on the black and yellow and playing football, no matter where that’s at, whether it’s at receiver, or just returning kicks or whatever I can do to help this team win ball games.”
An undrafted guy with a willingness to learn, receive the proper coaching, and bring a lunch pail attitude to a blue collar town, if Olszewski can return to his All-Pro form and tilt the field for the offense next season, he’ll no doubt become a fan favorite in short order.