The average NFL rookie is 21 years old and fresh out of college. He either finished his senior season or declared early after his junior or redshirt sophomore season. Occasionally, a player wanders down from the Canadian Football League to try his hand in his mid-20s. Jarryd Hayne is different. Will the 49ers rookie meet expectations this season?
Getting to Know Hayne
Why is a 27-year-old Australian creating this much excitement and generating more attention than San Francisco’s more lauded rookies? The key is his background. Hayne is starting from scratch as a football player after dominating the game he played as a kid. Hayne was a rugby star who earned a Rookie of the Year award in 2006. He was an 18-year-old phenom at the time.
Over the years, Hayne evolved into one of the greatest rugby players of his generation. He earned two prestigious Dally M Player of the Year awards, which is the equivalent of being NFL MVP twice. Voters also chose him as a Fullback of the Year multiple times. In rugby, that’s the glamor position in the same way that quarterback is in football.
Why Is Hayne in the NFL?
Not content with his rugby celebrity, the Australian always wondered if his skill set would translate to football. He first toyed with the notion in 2009, when an Australian rules football team offered him millions to quit rugby and join them. He passed on the offer, but the idea intrigued him for years.
Hayne wanted to play for an American college football team. There was only one problem. He hadn’t graduated high school and was therefore ineligible to play. Left with no other options, Hayne posted a YouTube video of his highlights as a rugby player. NFL executives took note of his blazing speed and toughness. Like Kickalicious, Hayne leveraged his video into an NFL contract.
The Future of the 49ers
San Francisco offered Hayne a three-year contract along with a financial guarantee of payment if he didn’t make the team. Since arriving in March of 2015, the Australian has dazzled everyone with his electric athleticism. Despite having no formal training, Hayne made the cut to become an NFL player. In the process, he beat out over 40 other players who’ve played the sport all their lives.
Of course, there’s still a lot for Hayne to learn as a 27-year-old rookie. Despite all the hype about his open field ability, Hayne isn’t used to 300-pound men hitting him as hard as they can. San Francisco had high hopes for Hayne to make splash plays in his debut. Instead, he muffed his first punt return, mortifying his Australian fans back home.
With only 13 yards on four carries, Hayne showed little in his NFL debut. Still, San Francisco has weaker opponents in the second half of the season, like Chicago and Atlanta, on their DocSports schedule, so Hayne might become a factor by then.
As a 27-year-old rookie with zero NFL experience, Jarryd Hayne is an NFL oddity. Whether he becomes a viable player or a historical footnote remains to be seen.