Jarryd Hayne. Ben Margot-AP

Jarryd Hayne. Ben Margot-AP



Prior to the start of the 2015 preseason, running back Jarryd Hayne was viewed as a long shot to make the San Francisco 49ers' 53-man roster. After just two exhibition matchups, the former Rugby League superstar has rebranded himself as a fan-favorite member of the 49ers.

In Sunday's 23-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium, Hayne had 138 all-purpose yards. He showed that he can be an explosive player on special teams. It was always on special teams where he would have the best shot at making this team. "Jarryd Hayne can change direction on a dime without sinking his hips. That is rare. There are maybe 3 or 4 guys in the entire league that have that ability," says 49erswebzone.com writer AJ Bolino. His raw skills and physical abilities have him right where he needs to be — on the cusp of locking up a roster spot.

Hayne's surprising grasp of the game, in what is the rookie season for the 27-year-old, will cost someone else a roster spot. The player that may be most in danger of no longer being needed is running back Kendall Hunter, who has been a member of the 49ers since being drafted in the fourth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft. While Hayne is exciting coaches and fans alike, Hunter has yet to see any live action with the team. He is attempting to come back from a torn ACL suffered on the second day of the team's 2014 training camp.

Kendall Hunter. Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports


In the past, he has proven himself to be a productive back for the team. In 2013, he played in all 16 games, carrying the ball 78 times for 358 yards, a 4.6 yard-per-carry average, and ran into the end zone three times. In 2012, he averaged 5.2 yards in 72 carries, the largest season average of his career, before being placed on injured reserve after an Achilles tear that he suffered against the New Orleans Saints.



However, that was then and this is now. We simply do not yet know what he will look like in live action following his injury. Let's assume that Hayne, who had 54 yards on 8 carries at running back against Dallas, has shown enough to make the team. After all, aside from his special teams contributions, Hayne has 117 rushing yards on 13 carries in preseason. Yes, you read that correctly. That is a 9-yard average. His skills of breaking tackles in the Rugby League have translated well into the NFL. While he is a bit aggressive in his running, refusing to go out-of-bounds and tending to run a little too upright, he runs strong and has proven that he can bully defensive backs for extra yards.

Carlos Hyde will start at running back when the 49ers offense takes the first snap against the Minnesota Vikings on September 14. He averaged nearly 4.9 yards-per-carry against the Cowboys. Reggie Bush is seen as a big free agent acquisition by the team and they have already expressed enough confidence in him to limit his preseason playing time. Like Hunter, rookie Mike Davis was a fourth-round selection. He looked good against the Cowboys, averaging nearly 4.3 yards on 8 carries. "GM Trent Baalke has never released a fourth-round pick his rookie season," says Ryan Sakamoto of Ninerfans.com, who believes Hunter is on the bubble.

Sadly, like many others, he may be correct in that belief. The fact that we have yet to see anything from him since his injury does not help his case. What he has done in the past does not matter when the team cannot see what he can do for them now. Hunter was penciled in as Frank Gore's backup last year. His injury put the spotlight on rookie Carlos Hyde, who unofficially became the replacement for Gore once he left for the Indianapolis Colts. If Hunter had not gotten injured, that job may have become his. Now he is on the outside looking in. That's life in the NFL.