What should the NFL learn from the Jarryd Hayne experiment?


A number of weeks ago, the buzz was so overwhelming about an aspiring NFL player in training camp (who just happened to be a former Australian rugby league star) that I elected to whip together a short movement breakdown on a relatively unknown player who at one point had very little shot of truly making it beyond being just a ‘camp body’.

Unless you are living under a rock and/or don’t follow professional football at all, you probably know that as of this past weekend, this improbable player, Jarryd Hayne, made it through all of the cuts and is now an official member of the San Francisco 49ers. There he will further his development taking snaps in the San Fran backfield and returning punts/kicks (though it’s a pretty crowded depth chart at the RB position so he likely be primarily a return specialist if I had to guess).

Here is the link to read that original blog about Jarryd Hayne.


If you want to know the cliff notes version from the original, it basically reads that even though Hayne did have a great first game (he subsequently had a few other solid preseason performances since that writing), he still had a lot to learn about the movement nuances between his old sport and his new one.

Also within that blog, I stated that even though I was slightly critical and imploring people to pump the brakes, I was also hoping that Hayne would make the 49ers team as I felt it would help open some eyes in the NFL.

Just what kind of eyes would it open? Well, now that Hayne has made it through the rigors of training camp and has been awarded a spot on the 53-man roster for the Niners, let’s explore the landscape and try to answer this question.

First, is he just an anomaly?

It very well could be that Jarryd Hayne is an anomaly…a one-off…a rarity…and that if we extracted other international rugby league players from their teams and inserted them onto NFL rosters with little to no experience in the game of American football, they could very well be part of the list of guys escorted quickly through the door at the first chance that GMs could. However, I admit I also predicted that would happen with Hayne.

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29:  Jarryd Hayne #38 of the San Francisco 49ers warm up prior to facing the Denver Broncos during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

If you’ve watched Hayne at all, there should be little doubt that he is a bit of a specimen…but from the limited rugby league (and rugby union) play that I have witnessed, there are other guys that are also very athletic who possess movement skills & qualities that could transfer very well to the gridiron. So, if I had to go out on a limb, I would say that though he is impressive, I don’t necessarily believe he is a freak of nature per se (and much of what he is able to do on field is likely due to his preparation up to this point).

Thus, what likely will be “learned”?

NFL coaches, general managers, and decision makers are notorious for forming the NFL as a copycat league: one where it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’ (as long as the original monkey was successful that is).

Additionally, it’s been said that if you can play, they will find you (Note: ‘they’ being NFL scouts).

And when they find you, you will get an opportunity. Talent isn’t hanging out everywhere…but you can find it anywhere!

We already have seen numerous cases of guys like Antonio Gates (only played basketball in college) and Tony Gonzalez (only played 1 year of football in college) who were plucked from their predominant sport to go onto have very successful careers in the National Football League (Hall of Fame worthy even).

This has led to NFL scouts to look under nearly every nook & cranny to grab onto a project player who may turn into the next big thing. But yet this particular instance feels a little different. The Jarryd Hayne experiment turning successful means there could be an enhanced opportunity for every international rugby league player to be looked at as the “next” Jarryd Hayne. I think it’s safe to say that NFL team scouts will routinely start watching these guys play more & more.

Thus, what I think will likely be learned by those in the NFL is… “We” need only to continue to expand our talent ID efforts and we, too, can come across the “next” Jarryd Hayne.

What else should be learned?

In case you were counting, there are 1,696 players in the League (32 teams each with 53-man rosters). But this number was cut down from 2,880 players at the start of training camps just six weeks ago (90 guys per team).

I am no genius…instead; I try to rely on some simple logical reasoning at times. So, let me get this straight: an athlete who doesn’t know anything about the game but who IS blessed with physical gifts and happened to hit the sperm lottery in his own respect (but really no more than the other players in the League if you’ve ever been near any of them), is able to beat out 1,184 guys who all have played a great deal of football more than he has?!

I am by no means implying that he shouldn’t have made the team (and beat these other guys out for roster spots in the process) or that he doesn’t deserve what he’s gotten; he most definitely does. And his upside is that he is going to continue to get much better each week as he does acquire greater football-specific skill and things really begin to click for him.

However, what I am saying is this…it all just doesn’t add up…for those involved in the development of those other 1,184 guys and the thousands of others who were also gifted with physical prowess AND who had a lot of experience playing football at a high level (college and some varied amount of professional ball).

Are SOME of the movement skills and physical qualities transferable between some rugby codes and American football? Yes, absolutely.

But, if a guy can waltz in there and can beat out these other football players that have been preparing for this their whole life…and if I happened to be a person who has been involved in their preparation for their performance on the field…I would be hardcore baffled as to how this can happen?! I mean…if I were to be one of those people, how can I let that happen?!

On top of that…theoretically, if there are others like Jarryd Hayne out there who will be “next” to beat out other seasoned true football players (which remains to be seen but as I said above I predict it will happen)…then, that should lead all of us to question what we are doing in this country in the traditional football preparation means & methods that we employ.

A few related questions (almost rhetorical at this point) pop into my mind….

Are we missing the boat on some things?

Is it possible that we not enabling our athletes to realize their full potential on-field?

Can we learn anything from how they are preparing rugby league players (and other rugby codes) internationally that can and should be applied here in this country with American football preparation?

What then do we need to change of those things that we may traditionally hold near & dear to our hearts in American football that may actually be short-changing our athletes?!

If you are involved in American football preparation I implore you to constructively and critically think about some of the thoughts I posed today as well as your answers to these above questions. Don’t just take offense to them…actually think about them in an honest fashion!

And while you do that, feel free to sit back and marvel when Jarryd Hayne returns a punt to the house while equally juking guys and running them over in the process…but when he does so, just be sure to think about what it may mean to you and the preparation methods you employ with your American football players.

Hayne 2 pic 1


As I concluded last time, I am rooting for Hayne to excel. I just hope if…err okay, when (I don’t want my Australian peers getting upset with me)…he does, that those in the National Football League will look further than the many talent identification & talent mining opportunities that exist and will instead also dive into what we should be doing differently here in our preparation approaches.

11 thoughts on “What should the NFL learn from the Jarryd Hayne experiment?

  1. As always, an interesting post. It’s also interesting the 49ers hired Dr. Fergus Connally (a native of Ireland) as High Performance Director in 2014. Other teams are doing the same thing with Adam Beard (from Australia and had been working in Europe with rugby)now with the Browns and Dr. Diesel (from South Africa (worked with Premier League Soccer) as Performance Directors. Once the snowball starts it seems to pick up momentum as other teams do the same thing.

    • Thanks for reading & posting, John. Yeah; like I said, it’s definitely a copycat league and always will be. Individuals filling those roles (though I believe Fergus could be already out of that role w/the 49ers if I remember correctly) is a necessity to a certain degree; an individual informed to make judgement calls regarding the many facets of player’s performance in the League. The $ is there to do it…teams just have to stop being ignorant to it all and get out of the norms that they’ve so often adhered to.

  2. I forgot to mention Dr. Diesel (from South Africa) is with the Dolphins. They just hired him this past offseason. I think these teams hiring sports scientists or what they call High Performance Managers/Directors to make sense of everything almost have to go overseas because in the US university system the only place that trains sport scientists is Dr. Stone et al. at ETSU. There’s no or very little interaction between academic and athletic departments at US universities which is sad for those of us who love sports.

    For example, what is Dr. Kraemer doing with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes? Yet, the NSCA gives out the Kraemer Sport Scientist Award in his honor every year and most of the recipients have not done much of anything on football, basketball, or baseball at their own universities. It’s very misleading too!

      • They (ETSU) just started up their football program after dropping it some time ago. One student (I believe) is helping with Al Johnson and the Football S&C program. I can tell you more in private about it. It would be cool if they could have “a football lab” so to speak like they do with most of the other sports at ETSU. I was at their 2013 Coaches’ College and the head football coach spoke at lunch one day. He told some jokes but for some reason not many people were laughing.

  3. Seems like Josh Dugan (check him out on YouTube) is considering following Hayne’s path from Rugby League to the NFL. Take a look at him in action and see what you think.

    • Thanks for reading & commenting, Dan! Much appreciated. I will definitely check out Dugan! Thanks for sharing! I do believe that there will be numerous players attempting to follow in Hayne’s footsteps.

  4. As an avid NFL fan, but part-time rugby league viewer I have to tell you that you’re not really understanding who Hayne is. Hayne would no doubt be in the top 50 players who’ve ever played in the NRL (National Rugby League). That’s just over 100 years of players, at all the various different playing positions. But as far as NRL players who could create something out of nothing and having freakish abilities, Hayne would be in the top 5 of all time. His 2009 season (one of his two MVP wins, the other being just last year) was probably THE greatest individual performance ever over a whole season. His team sucked, and it was Hayne who got them to the grand final. He’s an unbelievable player. If he’d grown up in the US, he’d be as highly rated as Adrian Peterson. He is a freak. Plus he has amazing dedication, belief in himself, and a real love for NFL that he’s had for a long time.

    Others could maybe try out, but I seriously doubt any other NRL player would have the impact of Hayne. Trust me – the NFL has not seen the best of Hayne by a long shot. He will kill it. The guy is a freak of nature.

    • Hey Davo. Thanks for reading & taking the time to comment. I appreciate it. You’re correct in saying that I do not know much about Hayne overall…just the few highlights I’ve seen of him playing in the NRL and now of course his 4 preseason games here. Obviously, the upside for him in this game is very high and I would definitely not expect those in the NFL to have seen the best of him being that isn’t even the case for rookies who have been playing American football their whole lives leading up to their time in the NFL. Thus, I am anxious to see what transpires. Maybe he is a freak of freak there among the NRL performers…and I will trust you on that for sure as I haven’t followed him enough to know that one way or another. I will say though that in the NFL game, I wouldn’t label him as a freak per se (as I mentioned in the article). To me the things that stuck out thus far (again knowing that he has yet to truly get a feel for this game vs. the one that he has been playing), is regardless of how adaptable he may be, the speed of the game in the NFL is hard to understand & appreciate until you’re there but yet b/c of his solidified movement tendencies from playing/growing/developing/evolving in the NRL game, he does possess a unique skill-set that is highly transferable to the game here. Though I do believe that we all may see a few differences now that regular season games begin and the level of talent/athleticism that he will be facing will be much higher on every unit and in every situation. Though, we will find out soon enough!

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