Fooch's update: YEP, IT DID!
Every single year, there will be at least one player but usually a handful of players that impress in the preseason and cause NFL fans to go absolutely crazy for. This inevitably leads to a lot of outrage when that player is ultimately released or placed on the practice squad.
Australian Rugby League convert Jarryd Hayne has caused the fans to go absolutely crazy, but this isn't a preseason fling and I think there's no doubting at this stage that he has a place on the San Francisco 49ers' 53-man roster for the regular season. Hayne has strung together multiple strong performances at positions of need and has made his value known at more than one position.
Last season, the 49ers' returner position seemed like more of an afterthought than anything else, and the team is always looking for fast, eager players on the coverage units, two areas Hayne excelled at in the preseason. It's just a bonus that he also looks pretty good running the football and finding the hole on the offensive side of the ball.
Hayne's stats aren't going to blow anyone away by any stretch of the imagination, but they are solid. Hayne had 25 carries for 175 yards, three catches for 35 yards, a kick return for 33 yards and 10 punt returns for 163 yards. He was second in the NFL with those yardage numbers, and first with a 7.0 per-carry average in the preseason.
What's more important than the stats is just how good he looked with the football in his hands. He looked like a natural, and he looked dangerous. There's not a better fit for him than at the returner position, and the 49ers would be fools to part ways with him at this stage.
Fortunately, it doesn't look like that's even a possibility at this stage. After yet another impressive performance from Hayne, the 49ers are likely to retain him when they made final roster cuts in advance of Saturday's deadline to meet the 53-man limit for the regular season. Reggie Bush will not be your starting punt returner, and someone like Kendall Hunter may just be out of a job.
Let's take a little bit to go over some of Hayne's top plays throughout the preseason, shall we?
It all basically started with that 53-yard rung against the Houston Texans, if y'all happen to remember that one. If Hayne keeps his footing here, he's basically gone, though it wasn't all his fault that he got tripped up -- that Texans player did get a piece of his ankle or leg:
We've got one of Hayne's big punt returns, this one gave me a minor heart attack because he caught the ball facing the wrong direction. It's probably a safe bet that the coaches were both into that and also probably yelling at him. Things can go horribly, horrible wrong on punt returns but I feel like Hayne is the one guy we should trust making this kind of catch, you know? Let's take a look:
So that return was nice, but what if Hayne were to ... have another nice one in the same game? Surely not, right? Oh ye of little faith ... Hayne had a couple good returns in that game, making a few miss here. This is what I mean when I say that Hayne looks like a natural with the football. Look at his instincts on this play:
Then in the preseason finale on Thursday, Hayne had a couple really solid runs. That includes this one, where at the end of it he pretty much shows the whole league and defenders everywhere that he is, in fact, used to playing with pads and that he's not going to go down easily. Let's see that one below:
I did mention Hayne having a "couple" big runs against the Chargers, which means I absolutely have to include this play. Hayne's change of direction is really solid here, and the way he keeps his balance, again, makes him look like a natural. He also makes that last guy miss to pick up an extra four yards or so, which is nice:
And since the broadcast wasn't terrible this time around, we have another angle of that run, where you can see Hayne's cuts in action:
The plays above weren't the only times Hayne looked good in the preseason, but there's more than enough there to earn him a roster spot, as far as I'm concerned. Hayne could make the return game something that actually matters this season, especially for an offense that absolutely cannot be pressed up against its own endzone given the offensive line at work here. I'm on the Hayne hype train, or plane, or whatever you want to call it. Don't mess this up, 49ers.