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What does Jarryd Hayne retirement mean for 49ers roster competitions?

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The 49ers did not lose a sure thing with Jarryd Hayne's retirement, but it does raise some questions about two position competitions.

I suppose the snarky response to this question is "nothing." But even though Jarryd Hayne only had one year of experience under his belt, there is still plenty to consider on offense and special teams. I had Hayne earning a spot in my first 53-man roster projection, but he was certainly a bubble candidate, as opposed to a lock.

Hayne played running back and did return work last season. He flashed some skills at both positions in the preseason. When the regular season arrived, he had some moments, but he also had fumbling issues. He was waived and signed to the practice squad, where he got to spend much of the season learning some of the nuances of football. He was activated for the final two games, and his final season line included 17 rushes for 52 yards, six receptions for 27 yards, eight punt returns for 76 yards, and two special teams tackles.

Running back

Hayne had some solid preseason runs last preseason, but never got much going in the regular season. He did not get a ton of opportunities, and heading into training camp this summer, he faced significant competition at the running back position.

The 49ers current running back depth chart includes Carlos Hyde, Mike Davis, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, and Kelvin Taylor. Hyde is a lock, and Davis seems a likely bet to return given he is only in his second season. Taylor has the pedigree, but as a sixth round pick, he's guaranteed nothing. That leaves Draughn and Harris to consider. Draughn looked solid enough in six games for the 49ers, but I think Harris showed a little more flash in his two games starting after Draughn went down.

Draughn and Harris were mid-season free agents for a reason, so let's not get overly hyped about what they bring to the table. I had neither making the 49ers roster this season, and with Hayne gone, I still think no more than one of them is on the roster. Harris seems to offer a little bit more to Chip Kelly's offense, but there will be plenty of opportunities to show what they can do.


Hayne's ability to work in open space in rugby league seemed to suit him well as a return man in the NFL. He fumbled on his first regular season return, and things never really got going after that.

Bruce Ellington was the 49ers primary return man last year, returning 19 punts and 26 kicks. Hayne returned eight punts, Reggie Bush returned two, and DeAndrew White returned one. Quinton Patton returned seven kicks, White returned six, and Pierre Thomas, Tony Jerod-Eddie, and Bruce Miller each returned one (short kicks for the latter two).

Ellington averaged 25.6 yards per kick return, and 7.2 yards per punt return. His kick return average was good for 38th in the NFL, but 18th among players with double digit kick returns, and ninth among players with at least 20 kick returns. His punt return average was 47th overall, and 28th among players with double digit punt returns.

Ellington's numbers were not atrocious, but they were not particularly great. I would think there will be competition for the role this coming preseason. DeAndrew White will likely see some opportunities, along with some of the other receivers. There are some skilled options, but this is not exactly a group that overwhelms. Kick returners will hold less and less value, but quality punt returners remain quite valuable.

This is the area where I am most disappointed about losing Hayne. He had his fumble issues, but I think his biggest upside was in the return game. Such is life.