The NFL is abuzz with the unearthing of Jarryd Hayne. The former Parramatta Eels rugby league star has broken new ground by successfully transitioning from rugby of any hue to earning a spot on an NFL team when he signed as a running back for the San Francisco 49ers.
Building on this, reports suggest the NFL are taking rugby more seriously and will be sending scouts to the Rugby World Cup (the difference between league and union still unknown to them, one step towards civilising them at a time). That said, let’s explore four potential targets the NFL could get interested in.
*Kickers and punters are excluded because most top level fly halves would walk onto an NFL team in those capacities.
Running-Back is the most directly transferrable position for rugby players. Finding a gap in the defence and running through it, then accelerating away from the next phase of defenders is a skill set developed in union. Who do you think of when powering through a tackle and putting on the after-burners? Julian Savea has God-given power to go with incredible pace that any team looking for a power back would covet.
He is bound to do some eye catching things on the wing for the most famous rugby team on the planet and has “Nonu-like” fending power but with the benefit of being younger. Do not be surprised to hear rumours and the usual bar stool stories around the big Hurricane being lured “Stateside” with vast sums of green.
Away from Running-Back it get’s a bit more abstract. The intricacies of the passing game might be a bit much to thrust upon someone with no experience in their 20s, but what if you could take George North and line him up at Tight End? He undoubtedly has the size ( 6 ft 5 in and 17 stone) to be a mismatch for smaller Safeties and the pace/elusiveness to evade most Linebackers. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if the big Welsh winger were to take on an Antonio Gates type role.
Moving to the other side of the ball to defence, skills like tracking the play, covering large amounts of ground and being physical enough to bring down the ball carrier, are essential for a good Linebacker. Those skills play right into Jamie Heaslip’s wheelhouse. He is a de facto Openside Flanker but with the added bulk of a Number 8. When you focus in on the work rate and tackle count of the Naas man you truly appreciate what he brings. It is likely that he would take to the cerebral demands of the position like a duck to water. Though he might still be too small to play the position at the top level this one would be the least suprising of the moves.
Israel Folau wins at being human! Already a star in the NRL and AFL, he is now arguably the best 15 in union. He is a once in a lifetime physical specimen. If you are excelling at three sports why not push for a fourth?
Folau’s size and aerial ability mean you could slot him in almost anywhere but perhaps Safety would suit him down to the ground. He is physical enough to come down to the heat of the battle and put in some hits á la Troy Polamolu in his heyday, or use his speed and agility to probably be elite in pass coverage too. Additionally, he is no stranger to catching contestable balls, he could pick off overthrown deep balls and would probably dabble in returning kicks too. Put all that together and you have a Troy Polamolu/Ed Reed hybrid (ok this writer is getting ahead of himself there).
The steep learning curve of the different codes makes Hayne’s conversion unique and do not expect a massive exodus to the gridiron, but looking at “the rugby thing”, this writer would not go too far past these four guys.