Why Jarryd Hayne Faces A Struggle To Make It In The NFL

By every conceivable measure, Jarryd Hayne has what it takes to make an American football roster after announcing his hopes of carving a career in the NFL. He’s big, strong,
16 Oct 2014 21:27
Why Jarryd Hayne Faces A Struggle To Make It In The NFL
Jarryd Hayne

By every conceivable measure, Jarryd Hayne has what it takes to make an American football roster after announcing his hopes of carving a career in the NFL. He’s big, strong, fast and flamboyant, all of which, if you’ve ever watched the NFL, seem to be required in equal parts. This is especially so in Seattle – a possible destination for Hayne after he visited their set-up earlier this year – where the Seahawks not only enforce their physical will on opponents, but are among the best teams in the league at celebrating their own prowess.

So on the whole, Hayne is just the type of sporting specimen that could turn on its head the idea that Aussies in the NFL are only good for punting, and burst onto the field with both the desired pomp and aplomb. One’s interpretation of a burst is rather a subjective however. While Hayne tears across NRL parks like a ride-on Victa that’s sprung its driver, there’s an element of control to NFL running which could prove problematic for him.

If you think about it, league thrives on its freelancing from the backfield, while NFL rushers generally run to a coordinated play, moving in a pre-set direction to follower blockers and find gaps in the line of scrimmage. You might say, isn’t it all just carrying a football at the end of the day, whether you’re motoring across the carpet-like surface of Ford Field in Detroit or kicking up dust at Leichhardt Oval? Well, tell that to the poor sap ploughing his way into four sumo-sized lineman 20 times a game. Following your front line into the fray is one thing: knowing when to retreat, spin and side step is another. There’s far less room to manoeuvre in the NFL, and given the size and speed of the defenders pursuing the runner, there’s certainly less time.

Hayne has the mettle to mix it up with whatever and whoever the NFL throw at him. There’s no question he has soft hands, a seamless sidestep and superb acceleration into open space. Few athletes are as gifted, which is why he makes league look so easy. But in the NFL, most are as gifted, which is why it’s hard to find a position Hayne could win over against local American talent. Hayne is probably too small to play tight end, and not quite fast enough to play as a wide receiver.

Having said that, Hayne could slot into any number of positions on an NFL side purely because he’s a playmaker (the player himself has said he thinks he could be effective as a punt or kick retuner but again there are doubts over his pace for that role). By this I mean, you could stick him on a soccer pitch and he’d probably leave a mark on the game. He’s just that sort of bloke, headstrong, imaginative and with limbs like Popeye. These are the kinds of attributes NFL scouts and coaches look for, which is why Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush was so impressed by Hayne when he saw him play in the State of Origin series in June. Bush said Hayne looks like a running back, but the truth is that when he runs, Hayne doesn’t look much like Bush.

Bush provides us with a suitable benchmark here though, because he’s slightly shorter and lighter than Hayne. This is important because it’s what allows him to put 40 yards of turf behind him in just over four seconds (to be exact, his 40-yard time coming out of college was 4.33 seconds).

While Hayne might not be quite as fast, he is similarly elusive and also has a superb feel for reading defenders, which is why Eels fans never wrote off their team in any game with their fullback still on the pitch. In an instant, and with the type of down field vision that’d wow even David Beckham, Hayne proved that there was always a way, given the will. That he can replicate this type of charge from a standing start in an NFL backfield or in wide receiving slot, however, seems hard to imagine. The moves are just so foreign to our codes. Even if he ends up fielding NFL punts, the art of catch and run – which he has excelled at in the NRL – is made infinitely more difficult by high speed human projectiles vaulting themselves at you from all angles. It’s a far cry from being wrapped up by an angry Michael Ennis.

Another challenge for Hayne is that he will be up against players who have played a very technical sport their entire life. Hayden Smith, who swapped rugby union for the NFL briefly, explained that the obstacles to a career change were not just physical.

“The first thing you have to understand is the language they use and the little nuances of what is actually happening on the field. Only then can you start working on techniques. It is a long process before you can actually take to the field and contribute,” Smith told the Daily Telegraph after returning to rugby. “It took me months to be able to coherently understand what was going on and that was after putting in 12- or 14-hour long days. The playbook would contain hundreds of plays and thousands of varieties. You only have a couple of seconds to react once we snap the ball.

With this latest announcement, Hayne’s will to play league has apparently subsided. He’s dreaming big and who can blame him? As a footy fan, I’ll miss him. There are fewer better sights in league right now than Parramatta’s No1 bustling down the sideline with a single man to beat. There’ll surely be many more to overcome in the American game, some bigger, faster and much louder. Be sure to strap that helmet up tight won’t you, Jarryd.


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