Bob Levey-AP

Bob Levey-AP



Did Jarryd Hayne's performance on Saturday secure him a roster spot as a running back? The short answer: no. Despite tearing off a 53-yard run and holding his own in pass protection, Hayne's contributions as a running back won't keep him on the 53-man roster—not with Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendal Hunter, and fourth-round pick Mike Davis in front of him.

But his contributions as a returner might.

Yes, it's preseason. Yes, it's that time when backups strut their stuff and coaches resort to vanilla play calls. So it's really too early to make predictions, right? But common-sense be damned, let's talk predictions.

In his first NFL game, Hayne displayed a combination of swagger, confidence, and big-play ability that the Niners have been lacking from their return specialists since the departure of speedster Ted Ginn Jr. Hayne's stats may not be eye popping—two punt returns of 11 and 13 yards, along with a 33 yard kick return—but for those who tuned into Saturday's game, you saw a certain kind of poise and confidence that speaks to Hayne's second nature in fielding the ball.

For starters, calling a fair catch apparently isn't in Hayne's blood, even with defenders striding down field unobstructed, less than five yards away from a jarring collision. The most impressive aspect of Hayne's game on Saturday was how he responded to the opposition—calmly securing the football, dodging his would be tackler with a flash of subtle elusiveness, and then muscling his way forward with a combination of burst, balance and physicality.

What we learned is that Hayne's natural athleticism and toughness does translate to the NFL (especially those lovely stiff arms). And in a year where the 49ers have so many unknowns, locking down a player who can help in the game of field position is certainly a valuable commodity. If Hayne can capitalize on this momentum as returner and continue to prove his value elsewhere, he might just be able to elbow his way onto the 49ers final roster.

What remains to be seen is if other 49ers players, such as second-year receiver Bruce Ellington or the seasoned Reggie Bush, can match or outperform Hayne on special teams. Even with a solid debut, Hayne faces an uphill battle.

So what are your two-cents? Does Hayne make the final cut? Do the 49ers carry five running backs this year? Post your predictions below.