The Jets have signed former rugby star Hayden Smith to a three-year contract, according to reports. But just who is this Hayden Smith and why would the Jets want to sign a former professional rugby player whose only other experience is in playing Division II basketball at Denver's Metropolitan State?
Well, as ESPN New York's Rich Cimini states, Smith is a 6'7", 240-pound projected tight end who ran a 4.75 in the 40. That is impressive, even if the guy has never put on pads before.
So we have an athlete with huge potential that has never seen the field. Sounds like it is time to start making some assumptions and figuring out how he can earn a spot on the Jets 53-roster. These are three reasons I believe the Australian can be an immediate success in the NFL
1. No Fear
Rugby players are mean. When you are playing that game, its body on body contact. No fear of the big hit and no room for quit in your system. Players who can't tough out an entire game full of beatings and bruising can't expect to succeed and become well known.
How does this translate? Well of course he needs to be able to look Mario Williams in the eye at the line of scrimmage and believe that he can cave that guy down the line to open a hole for his running back. What he lacks as a technician he will have to make up for with brute strength, athleticism and heart.
Until he develops, he will be asked to do a lot of things new and foreign things, but his athleticism will have to carry him through these times or he won't make a roster spot.
In football, there are the many receivers that get hit (your Desean Jacksons and Austin Collies), and then there are those few who deliver the hits (your Hines Wards and Anquan Boldins). The Jets are expecting Smith to be of the latter group.
Imagine that you have had to hit people of similar size with no pads over and over again while they are trying to run over you on a professional level, without break. Then imagine that you are great enough at this sport to get offer to be paid to play another sport where you are afforded a 20- to 30-second rest in between every play.
Now, imagine how excited you would be to learn that in this new sport, you are given armor as you hit other players full speed who are probably smaller and slower than you. That is what Hayden Smith is feeling right now.
3. A Natural Affinity for Special Teams
From what I understand about the sport of rugby, there is a large amount of open-field tackling and running. That sounds exactly like what a special-teams player needs to make an NFL roster. As a huge physical specimen with rare athleticism, he could be a key lead blocker for an explosive return game.
On the other side of the coin, he should be able to make moves and cuts on special teams that few players can emulate. Combine that with his height, weight and speed and you have a dangerous player that should be able to make a roster.
So what does it all mean?
The Jets obviously see something special in Hayden Smith. If they didn't, why not find a more accomplished rugby player with the same upside? I think that he will have to work his way up from special teams, but if he has the work ethic, then there are no limits for him in this league.
When the joker tight end (a versatile TE who can just as well catch as he can block, and create mismatch nightmares) is becoming more popular with every draft, the Jets may have just found a diamond in the rough. Right now he has no bad habits and a clean slate with high upside.
It will be interesting to see how this new team comes together, and who makes it on to the final roster.