On Friday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they were signing WR/PR/KR Gunner Olszewski to a two-year, $4.2 million deal. The move follows WR Ray-Ray McCloud signing a two-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers worth $10 million. Last night, Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora looked into his crystal ball on Thursday night, firing his shot at Olszewski being McCloud’s perfect replacement as the Steelers kickoff and kick returner. Kudos to you Alex. You should start being a part-time mystic during the time you’re not crushing it on all things Steelers.
If I’m Pittsburgh, looking for that KR/PR role (hard to find players who do both), go get Gunner Olszewski. 25, All-Pro in 2020. Healthy averages in kick and punt game last year. #Steels
– Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) March 18, 2022
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) March 18, 2022
Considering the salary gap between Olszewski and McCloud, this is a clear win for Pittsburgh from a cap perspective alone. However, when you delve into Olszewski’s streak, you recognize he brings more to the table of a returning man aspect than McCloud did during his time with the Steelers. Olszewski is one year away from being a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro as a return specialist returning 20 punts for 346 yards (17.3 YPR) and a TD as well as 18 kick returns for 418 yards (23.2 YPR) in 2020. His numbers dropped in 2021 (11.9 YPR on punts, 23.1 YPR on kicks), but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t not efficient.
When you watch Olszewski on the punt return, you see a no frills returner who shows no fear with gunners flying at full speed to take his head off as he faces the punt or when he catches it and run into the fire. He doesn’t mind making contact and will fight to get every yard possible at the end of the comeback when he has nowhere to go as we see on this comeback against the Rams, catching the punt with a machine gunner right by him and gets on the ground quickly, causing a guy to miss in space and crosses the contact of several Rams for a successful return.
Here’s another return attempt from the same play as he lined up the punt on the rebound and then took off to his right, pushing a man in pursuit as he backed up to his left, showing good vision and an elusiveness as a runner until he was finally surrounded by the punt coverage team.
He may have only run a 4.56 40 on his Pro Day, but you see his brilliance in the open field when he has the ball in his hands and has room to run. Here’s his punt return touchdown in 2020 against the Chargers where he catches the punt and works towards the sideline until he sees a crease open and shoots through the gap, dodging the bettor in space as they approach the sideline and enter the end zone for the score.
He should have had another one in 2020 against the Cardinals if it hadn’t been for a blind block you’ll see here at the end of the play, but Olszewski presents his returner vision again as he separates the Red Sea (figuratively and literally) through the teeth of the punt coverage team, rushing into the end zone only to have the play called off due to a vicious block.
Kozora also mentioned when bringing up Olszewski as a potential McCloud replacement that he could be a valuable member of Danny Smith not only on return units, but also as a member of kick and clearance coverage teams. . He mentioned that this facet of his game might cost him a bit more on the open market, but luckily for Pittsburgh, it looks like they were able to sign him at a bargain price. Here’s an example of Olszewski operating at kickoff as the man second from the kicker’s right, flies down the field and gets blasted by a kick cover man, but gets up quickly to make the tackle on the back man.
One of my former colleagues from Minnesota State University, Mankato actually had the privilege of coaching Olszewski when he was at Bemidji State, telling me he was an absolute freak with the ball in the hands at the D-II level, whether it be as a return specialist, receiver or runner. While he has just nine receptions on 12 targets for 127 yards (14.1 YPR) and a touchdown in three seasons as a receiver, he’s not a complete zero in the passing game if he’s called. Watch this clutch reception Gunner Olszewski performs the drop of No. 11 Julian Edelman, preventing the ball from touching the ground and getting up the field for more yards during one-on-one play.
OC Matt Canada also gets another potential weapon to use on the jet sweep game as he did last year with McCloud as well as Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson to add another aspect of the running game whose defenses must take into account. Watch this jet motion transfer to Olszewski where he gets the corner and almost gets the first down before No 1 N’Keal Harry loses his block.
All in all, signing Gunner Olszewski was the corresponding right move after letting McCloud walk in free agency. It was the right move given the finances at stake, but the fact is Olszewski provides more as a kicking and clearing coverage man with his proven production as a returner and the ability to be an option to break ice in attack. as McCloud was if Pittsburgh suffered injuries to the WR position ahead of him. ST coordinator Danny Smith should be happy to add a proven returner to the fold who can contribute to all special teams units, and for the price, general manager Kevin Colbert is hitting it again this offseason when it comes to sign an underrated young player on the open market. .
What do you think of the signing of Gunner Olszewski? Do you think he can be an upgrade over Ray-Ray McCloud as a kick and punt returner? Do you think he can bring offensive value to Pittsburgh going forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading.