Patriots’ Gunner Olszewski Had One Of Best Seasons Ever By Punt Returner

This was a record-setting season for the second-year return man


January 4, 2021

FOXBORO, Mass. — Quick, who holds the New England Patriots’ single-season franchise record for punt-return average?

It’s not Julian Edelman. It’s not Wes Welker. It’s not Troy Brown, Dave Meggett or Irving Fryar.

As of Sunday, that honor belongs to Gunner Olszewski.

Olszewski averaged 17.3 yards per punt return on 20 attempts this season, breaking Edelman’s previous franchise record of 15.5, set in 2012.

And that wasn’t all.

Olszewski, whose hyper-aggressive returning style borders on hazardous, also led the NFL in punt return yards (346) and led all qualified returners in punt return average.

The undrafted second-year pro gained 12 or more yards on 11 of his 20 returns — including two in Sunday’s season-ending 28-14 win over the New York Jets — with three 50-plus yarders and a 70-yard touchdown. He also had another score called back for a penalty.

Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines ranked second in both lists, totaling 330 yards on 29 runbacks for an 11.4-yard average.

In historical context, Olszewski’s season looks even more remarkable.

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, just one player has returned 20-plus punts in a season and averaged more than 17.3 yards per return: Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin, who posted an 18.7-yard average on 23 attempts in 2012. Devin Hester ranks third at 17.1 (33 returns).

No, we’re not putting Olszewski in Hester’s class. And it’s worth noting multiple other players have posted averages nearly as high with significantly more returns — players like Patrick Peterson (15.9 on 44 returns in 2011), Jermaine Lewis (16.1 on 36 in 2000) and Dante Hall (16.3 on 29 in 2003).

But the fact remains: Olszewski posted the second-best punt average in modern NFL history in 2020. If you’re searching for bright spots in the Patriots’ unfulfilling 7-9 campaign, the rise of this former Division II standout certainly qualifies.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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