Patriots: Here’s why Gunner Olszewski will have an impact in 2020


Gunner Olszewski is heading into his second year and hoping to make an impact on the Pats.

At this point, Bill Belichick might have an addiction to players that can switch positions. Everyone knows Julian Edelman played quarterback in college. In 2019, linebacker Elandon Roberts played fullback, and QB Danny Etling tried to play wide receiver in training camp. In 2018, it was Cordarrelle Patterson who played some running back, and looked pretty good.

Gunner Olszewski is now adding his name to this list.

In case you weren’t well versed in Gunner’s background, he played defensive back in college at Bemidji State and was defensive and special teams MVP in his final season. He broke his school’s record for punt return yards in a single game when he was a true freshman in 2015, so he’s not new to that aspect of the game.

Belichick saw his versatility, and I’m sure his mouth was watering, which is why he was invited to rookie minicamp last year. Olszewski didn’t know what position he was going to play heading into camp, but at the end of the day, he made the 53-man roster primarily as a special teamer, returning punts up until he got hurt and placed on the IR in mid-November.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “How can a guy who caught two balls all of last year make an impact in 2020?” In 2019, it was Mohamed Sanu who returned most of the punts once he was traded to New England. The problem with Sanu is that he isn’t very good at returning punts! He only averaged six yards per return with the Patriots.

Sanu returned one punt in 2019 for Atlanta, and prior to that, the only time he was back to receive was for a kickoff, once, in 2015. The Pats miss the days when they could throw Troy Brown, Wes Welker, and Danny Amendola back to return a punt. They were fantastic weapons and drastically improved field position.

Yes, we still have Julian Edelman, but do we really want our best receiver, who’s 34 years old and still battling injuries to go back and return punts? No. Belichick is in agreement. That’s why he had Olszewski return 20 punts in 2019 for an average of nine yards per return. It’s not Edelman’s career average of 11.2 yards that puts him at the second-highest among active players, but it does the job.

We hear the word “grit” a lot when it comes to Patriot players. You usually don’t make the roster unless you have some of it in you. On WEEI, J.C. Jackson described Gunner as “a tough kid […] he’s coming at you every play, every snap. He’s going to go 100 percent […] he’s a dog.” This mentality might remind you a little bit of Malcolm Butler.

Remember how Butler made the 2014 Patriot roster? He earned the nickname “Scrap” for how he was always feisty and giving high effort. New England may not always have the most talented roster, but it’ll usually have the hardest working players. The team constantly turns late-rounders, UDFAs and other overlooked players intro significant contributors.

Belichick loves versatile players and special teamers. As a result, Olszewski should be returning punts for New England this year, and in a dream scenario, catch some balls on the offensive side. Gunner was spotted working out a few weeks ago with Cam Newton, so perhaps he’ll get more than four targets in the receiving game in 2020.

The worst-case scenario for Olszewski is that his role is completely limited to special teams. He’ll likely make the roster again this year and return punts for New England. But in a very unknown 2020 season, would it surprise you to see him get snaps on the offensive side of the ball?

The bottom line is that the 23-year-old has proven himself to be a valuable special teamer and can contribute on both sides of the ball. Assuming he’s improved, expect him to get more reps at wideout and carve out a bigger role for himself on this Pats team.