This offseason has been more about outgoings than incomings for the New England Patriots. Between JC Jackson, Ted Karras, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden, Shaq Mason (traded), Chase Winovich (trade) and Gunner Olszewski, the Patriots have endured far more losses than additions.
After all, DeVante Parker, Jabrill Peppers, Mack Wilson and Terrance Mitchell represent the only acquisitions thus far.
Each of the aforementioned departures will be tough to replace, but the loss of Olszewski might get overlooked in terms of significance. In 2020, the Bemidji State product was an All-Pro as a return specialist.
Olszewski followed that up with an impressive 2021, tying for second in yards averaged per punt return and tying for third in total punt return yards. We all know how much Bill Belichick loves having an edge in special teams, and Olszewski left massive shoes to fill in his wake.
The sky might not be falling, however, as third-round cornerback Marcus Jones seems poised to fill that role. Check out what Patriots owner Robert Kraft said to Jones after the team submitted the pick.
The Patriots may have found Gunner Olszewski’s replacement in 2022 third-round pick Marcus Jones.
“It’s great to have you with us. I heard you’re a great punt returner, besides being a good inside cornerback.”
Kraft hit the nail on the head. During his college career at Houston, Jones averaged 28.4 yards per kick return to go with six (!) touchdowns. He parlayed that by posting 14 yards per punt return and three scores.
Jones was the best return man in the country last season. Of his nine returned touchdowns, four of them (two kickoffs and two punts) came in 2021.
When you couple those numbers with the fact Jones made 46 tackles, five interceptions and broke up 13 passes as a cornerback, it’s no surprise the former Cougar won the 2021 Paul Hornung Award, which recognizes the most versatile player in college football.
At 5-foot-8, Jones is undersized for a cornerback, but he plays bigger than his size and holds his own in man coverage with elite foot quickness and ball skills. That smaller frame is part of what makes him such a weapon in the return game, as he’s able to squeak through the finest of holes. All it takes is one jump cut for the Houston product to get into high gear.
Peppers has returned 83 punts and 34 kicks in his career, but Jones’ pedigree and reputation could see him leapfrog the versatile DB. At the very least, Jones’ arrival gives the Patriots much-needed flexibility on special teams. That couldn’t be said in the aftermath of Olszewski’s departure.