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Hayne to NFL – What does it mean for Parramatta and Jarryd Hayne?

A bombshell dropped in the NRL today as the epitome one-man team, Jarrad Hayne of Parramatta has announced he's heading to bright lights of the NFL. But will it work? Regular rugby league contributor Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82 has his say on today's hot topic.

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Hayne to NFL – What does it mean for Parramatta and Jarryd Hayne?

Wow. That’s the word on every rugby league fans lips right now, especially Parramatta fans, although the f word follows for the Eels faithful. The out of the blue news has hit this morning that Jarryd Hayne is leaving rugby league and the Parramatta Eels to pursue his NFL dream. So beyond all the shock and hyperbole, what does this actually mean for both the Eels and what are the realistic chances for Hayne?

First of all a little about me, I’m a Parramatta Eels member and lifetime supporter. I’m also a professional punter who analyses rugby league religiously, watches all 201 NRL games every year, some twice for research reasons. And I also happen to watch and wager on almost as many NFL games. A few college games thrown in too. So what of Hayne chances in the NFL?

Well firstly what position would he play? For those not familiar with the NFL, the positions in the NFL are much more rigid than in rugby league, and the roles much more defined and narrow. I can’t imagine Hayne wants to play anything but on offence with the ball in his hands, so that rules out playing Corner or Safety. And naturally he isn’t big enough to play offensive or defensive line. The 2 most obvious positions for him are Wide Receiver or Running Back. The talk about RB I think is misguided. RB’s tend to be nuggetty, surprising small (usually under 6 foot, and some as short as 5’6”), and have explosive speed off the first step. Hayne is much taller than that, has an upright running style, and whilst he has great long range running speed, he doesn’t necessarily have explosive off the mark speed. As a WR he would be slightly undersized at 6’2”, but not too much. His speed would be near the mark, if a tad short. And would ultimately be the position that he would covet. Learning the routes to run, and a seemingly never ending playbook would be incredibly difficult for someone who has never played the game. EVERY single player he would be competing against for a spot would have been playing American Football for their entire lives, and have already played at high level and under scrutiny at college level. As supremely talented as Jarryd Hayne is, as freakish an athlete as he is, every single one of the current WR’s on NFL rosters, and those competing for spots would have been described as a ‘freakish athlete’ at some point in their careers. I doubt he can get on an NFL roster as a WR within a year.

In my opinion (and also alluded to by Hayne in his press conference) his best chance is as a kick/punt returner on what is known in NFL as ‘special teams’. The role is somewhat similar to fullback in rugby league. You stand out the back and field punts and kickoffs, and SOMETIMES run the ball back. The role of kick returner has greatly diminished in recent times, with far more often than not the job being purely to make a clean catch on the ball (which Hayne excels at!) and not run back at all. For those not familiar with the NFL you would be astounded at how limited this role is. You could quite comfortably be the no.1 kick returner on the team and touch the ball only a handful of times in a game, and actually run the ball back only 1 to 3 times a game. And on many occasions ZERO times a game. Given how clean his hands are, Hayne may have a legitimate shot at this role. His speed and ability to break a tackle or side step give him a chance. This would be his best shot at finding his way onto an NFL roster. And from there you may be given the chance to have a few snaps at training at WR to possibly play the position down the track. And even then you may be only the 4th or 5th choice WR on the team, and perhaps play only a few plays a game.

I’m a big Jarryd Hayne fan, have seen every 1st grade game he has ever played, and have huge respect for his ability. Do I think he can make it in the NFL? Probably not. It is extremely cut throat and competitive over there for roster spots. I think at this stage it’s next to no chance of him being a star/big time player in the NFL, but concede he could make it onto a roster as a special teams player. Whilst in the AFL the likes of code hoppers Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau have been signed purely for a marketing perspective, I highly doubt that will happen in the NFL. They don’t need it. The fact he is a ‘project player’ with some additional marketing clout for a broader audience MAY help him if he is borderline for a spot. But it really is an IF.

And what of Parramatta? After making a big step forward last year after back to back spoons, it can’t be denied that this is a MASSIVE blow to Parramatta. No single player in the game is more important or influential to their team than Jarryd Hayne is to Parramatta. Not Johnathon Thurston, not Cameron Smith, not Sam Burgess. Parramatta has often been called a one player team, and whilst cruel, it’s not far off the mark. Fortunately there are a few high level fullbacks possibly available this late in the recruiting piece. Josh Hoffman has been granted a release from Brisbane if he can get a gig elsewhere, Brett Stewart is trying to get a release from Manly, there has been talk of Brisbane letting go of Ben Barba with their glut of fullbacks. And even talk of Israel Folau or Kurtley Beale leaving union, and Izzy has previously been linked to the Eels, almost signing, and his younger brother currently plays in the under 20s team, so it may not be so far-fetched.

Parramatta MUST get one of these high profile players to be a chance next year. Josh Hoffman seems the most likely as he has already been granted a release if he wants it, he would come the cheapest of all those mentioned as he comes off an ordinary season (which was purely because Anthony Griffin played him in the wrong position at 5/8th) and is unwanted. He would be a good bet given his price, youth and upside. Plus the difference in his salary v Hayne’s would be massive so Parramatta could bring in other players to sure up other areas of weakness. Brett Stewart is coming off a fantastic 2014, and an underrated one too. He would be a great pickup, but is closer to the end of his career and would come with a higher paycheck. Ben Barba is coming off a horror year, which is purely his own making, and unless you can get him at a discount rate or have real strong belief that he can return to previous highs, he should be avoided at all costs. Izzy is a completely different proposition, as the ability to get him is probably very low, but to rebound from the loss of Hayne with a player of almost the same stature would be a massive coup. Beale is a greater risk, a problem child with no guarantee he would be a success in rugby league. News has come through this morning that Parramatta has signed Canberra winger and occasional fullback Reece Robinson, and whilst a handy player, he isn’t the answer in the fullback jersey. I can imagine some talk of Corey Norman returning to the fullback role he played at Brisbane, but coming off an ineffectual first year for the Eels, he needs to keep his current spot first, rather than switching.

Either way you slice it, it’s an enormous blow to the Eels, and knocks them down several pegs for 2015. They need to grab a high profile fullback as replacement and look for the silver lining of using the excess funds to add a quality player in another position to ease the Hayne blow.

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