The San Francisco 49ers might just have their new punt returner figured out. A week after opening eyes with a solid performance returning punts and rushing the ball, Australian rugby league import Jarryd Hayne managed to out-do himself against the Dallas Cowboys.
Hayne spent Sunday's game as the first punt returner, and then the third string running back. In the first half, Hayne returned three punts for 84 yards. That 28-yard average would be really good for a kick returner. For a punt returner, it is down right other-worldly. On his three punts, he showed great hands, great vision, and some nifty open-field moves.
Here are his first two punt returns. The first punt saw him having to turn around and make a "Willie Mays-style" catch to track down the punt. He caught it, and cut to his left and managed 27 yards on the return.
On his second return, he makes a really nice move to shake the first defender coming down the field. It is safe to say that if he continues like this, punters are going to start adding some hang time, and thus putting up shorter punts. Win, win for the 49ers.
The Cowboys did not kick off in the first half, so we did not see Hayne get a shot on kick returns. DeAndrew White took over in the second half, and at that point, Hayne moved in at running back. His first two runs gained three yards, and then he picked up six on his third run. The fourth run brought us this:
He got some nice blocking on the initial hole, broke a tackle and had another big gain. He finished the game with 54 rushing yards, to go along with his 84 return yards.
The 49ers kept Hayne plenty busy even outside the returns and rushes. He got work on the coverage units, and considering the skills required of him in rugby league, it makes sense. And getting work across the special teams only adds to his value.
At this point, it is hard to see him not making the roster. It has only been two games, but he has shown serious big play ability. If the 49ers cut him, I see no way there isn't at least one team that would claim him off waivers. Hayne has plenty to learn about being a running back, but the 49ers could easily justify keeping him as strictly a special teams player. Special teams is often overlooked, but an ability to flip the field like that is worth so much to the offense. He has two more games to build on his great start.