Jarryd Hayne 8 NFL Games: A Mea Culpa


Jarryd Hayne has eclipsed the record for games played by Australian NFL players, outside of kickers, and outlasted his first ever NFL head coach as his debut season ended with the San Francisco 49ers winning on Sunday.


The two-time Dally M Player of the Year finished his maiden NFL season seeing his side eke out an overtime win at home over NFC West rivals St Louis, but Hayne only featured for one play in terms of touching the ball, or the player with the ball as the case maybe in Hayne’s tackle – his sole involvement in the game.


The 19-16 triumph over the Rams, who at 7-9 are also not going to the playoffs, means Hayne and his Niners finish the year at 5-11, the second worst record in the NFC with only the Dallas Cowboys at 4-12 lower in the conference. I did warn you new fans this San Francisco side are not the 49ers you knew as a kid.


The Fijian Rugby League World Cup representative put me and my mindless tweet tweet comparing his possible results in the NFL to that of Penrith product Hayden Smith to shame and this is part mea culpa, part tip of the hat and part ‘where to next’ column.


In switching to NFL, I thought Hayne was taking a huge risk and using Smith as the closest and most relevant example, I thought he was little chance of making a 53-man roster let alone featuring in half of his side’s games for the season. Coupled with the fact he had joined a once-great franchise, which I felt had gone from penthouse to dumpster fire in the space of a few years, I felt it was a losing cause. But I was wrong. Well done Jarryd.

Some Hayne numbers:

47 – Total offensive yards gained (rushing and receiving) in Hayne’s career-best game against Detroit in week 16.

8 – Games played by Hayne. This eclipses the seven games Colin Scotts played for the St Louis Cardinals (yes, before the Cardinals moved to Arizona) in 1987 in terms of most games played by Australians. It will stand as a mark for non-kickers until broken. With Darren Bennett’s 163 games the mark for any position set during his career for San Diego and Minnesota unlikely to ever be passed, if Hayne’s NFL career ended in Santa Clara last weekend, whilst it’s not trail-blazing it is record-breaking.*

5 – Hayne’s five catches against Detroit outstripped former New York Jets Tight End Smith’s career total.

4 – Away game venues Hayne played at in the regular season. Pittsburgh, Arizona, New York (actually New Jersey), and Detroit.

3 – Regular season wins Hayne played in.

2 – Quarterbacks Hayne has taken the ball from. Colin Kaepernick (on a contract whose $160 million in potential value dropped horribly this season) was dumped after six defeats in the opening eight games and replaced by 26 year-old Blaine Gabbert.

1 – Head Coach Hayne has played under, Jim Tomsula. The long time defensive line coach was ‘relieved of his duties’ as boss in the hours after the win over the Rams, but the writing had been on the wall for a month.


After a blistering pre-season (in terms of how ‘blistering’ one can be against third-stringers and other players looking to prove a point on perhaps their third attempt at an NFL main roster in two years) Hayne played the first six games of the Niners regular season with some notable efforts, but also some below-par plays. Hayne’s muffed punt returns and inability to drive over for touchdowns when given the opportunity twice against the New York Giants in a three-point loss eventually saw him cut but then picked up again via the club’s practice squad.


Hayne’s elevation to the match-day squad for the last two games of the season came largely due to a raft of injuries but, again, like his pre-season, he did okay given the chance and leaves the new coaching staff with a  dilemma about how exactly to use him given they retain his contract rights by playing him in week 17. 49ers beat writer Tim Kawakami noted Hayne’s pre-season made it tough for the coaches to be able to ease him into the sport and also presented them with a conundrum about being able to claim credit for his improvement. How much the latter matters might be minimal but remember this is a club that sacked a near Superbowl-winning coach because the management felt they didn’t get enough credit.


With both Tomsula (definitely) and the highest-paid player, quarterback Kaepernick (probably), on the way out, what the team essentially does with a fringe player probably ranks number 20 on the ‘to do’ list for the 49ers in the off-season, but by April when some players return to various levels of team-related work, it will come into sharp focus. Hayne will likely return for the strength and conditioning work which occurs in this period with workouts and minicamps following in May and June respectively.


April 28 to 30 will also be a crucial period for Hayne, with the NFL Draft occurring during that time in Chicago. Who the Niners draft, and the positions those players play, will determine Hayne’s future with the club. The incoming college players likely to tussle with Hayne for any supporting running back role behind Carlos Hyde, with punt returning looking less likely for Hayne given his lack of participation in that role in his final two games. It’s worth remembering Mike Davis (who featured as the second tier running back in week 17 for the 49ers) was selected in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by the franchise as their fifth pick (126th overall), so look out for picks around that position for Hayne’s possible in-coming competition come April.


Any lack of urgency around Hayne given the storied franchises other issues could work in his favour, or could count against him. Tomsula, with his experience in NFL Europe, was always more likely to give a project player a chance. How open a more ‘traditional’ NFL coach (ie. one who has always worked in the USA via the NFL or college system) may be willing to do so is up in the air.


What will count against Hayne is for all the talk of the 49ers ‘wasting’ Hayne or ‘not knowing how to use him properly’ it’s illustrative that in the (brief) period he was cut, none of the other 31 sides, including some real bottom-feeders of the NFL, choose to pick him up and elevate him to their 53-man roster. Whilst the 49ers coaching staff weren’t the best this year, they haven’t rolled off the street either and if they haven’t figured out his best position by now other sides would seem less likely to take a risk when Hayne is yet to stand out in any position.


However, what shouldn’t been discounted is Hayne’s ability to stay healthy. Whilst he didn’t have the volume of work that some of his more notable teammates like Hyde (who started the season as the primary running back) through all the pre-season, training, practice squad time, and games, Hayne did play, stayed in shape, and upright. For all the chatter about how he often got into wrong positions when running, nothing he did caused himself a major injury. Given Hayne’s age, 27, and inexperience in the sport, staying healthy was a huge plus for the former Blues fullback and something for him for build on going forward.


Whatever the outcome with Hayne in the NFL, all he now needs to do is slide back into NRL with his old club, link up well with Kieran Foran and win the NRL and then he has Hayden Smith well and truly covered.


Either way I’m still wrong.


*Kickers Brad Wing (New York Giants) on 33 games and Jordan Berry (Pittsburgh) with 16 games lead Hayne among the ‘active’ Australians in the NFL. Berry’s Steelers will feature in the playoffs.


This piece first appeared on:

Jarryd Hayne 8 NFL games: A Mea Culpa

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.


  1. MY Cleveland Browns finished on a poorer win-loss ratio than the 49ers, Hamish.
    They were bloody hopeless.
    As you’ve mentioned SF did manage to snare 5 wins but they’re nowhere near the outfit they used to be in their glory days.
    Neither are the Browns who used to dominate the old pre-cursor to the AFC back in the Fifties when I first started following American football via Time and Life magazines.
    That was the only option in the days of yore. The Melbourne Argus and Herald, to name just 2 city papers, didn’t even publish rugby league results from just one state away. From just north of the Murray, in fact.
    So anything from the US didn’t rate a mention.

  2. Richard, It has been another awful year for the Factory of Sadness in the AFC. Owner seem wildly inconsistent in his comments about stability or otherwise within the coaching staff. Having an entitled quarterback doesn’t help either. Things can’t get much worse next season for Browns though.

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