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.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
If the 49ers keep four running backs, who is the odd man out?
Date: September 2, 2015 at 3:38 PM
Comment: Hunter looked sluggish Saturday. He would need to make significant improvement this Thursday otherwise I release him.
By: Luis contreras
Date: August 29, 2015 at 10:52 AM
Comment: Mike Davis hasn't even been impressive with 3rd stringers. Kendall Hunter is a great back and Davis hasn't earned his spot. Hayne is versatile with a high ceiling. My issue with Davis is the inability to break arm tackles while playing with back ups.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: August 25, 2015 at 6:08 PM
Comment: Navorro Bowman you have earned it! You get the Big Swinging Stick of the week award. What do you think? Who will carry the Big Stick to Denver this week?
Date: August 25, 2015 at 3:04 PM
Comment: Thanks David, Hunter was always one of my favorites, he gave everything all the time. His only drawback was bad luck. He had to have an outstanding camp to stick. As far as Hayne is concerned, this is a world class athlete. The first man down on punt returns grabs air not Hayne. It may be a bit premature but it wouldn't surprise me to see him get PT at running back sooner rather than later. This guy has star written all over him, and the reality is that outside of the U.S. it's no secret.
By: Darrel Peaton
Date: August 25, 2015 at 2:13 PM
Comment: Hunter can't stay healthy. Hayne will run kicks back and fill in for Hunter when he is hurt the 3rd time.
Date: August 25, 2015 at 9:01 AM
Comment: I agree that Mike Davis will not be cut. If he was, he would be scooped up by another team. I see Hayne as the No. 3 RB next year, replacing Reggie Bush. He has the receiving skills and open field ability to fully suit that role. This year he will be our featured return man. Baalke builds for the future.
Date: August 25, 2015 at 7:00 AM
Comment: Jarryd Hayne is a beast at returning the ball. But RB? Not all that impressive. Let's see Kendall play before giving up on what is probably a better RB.
Date: August 24, 2015 at 10:39 PM
Comment: I like Hunter a lot but too few spots. He's going to find himself starting in another city if the 49ers release him but either way, both win. I believe Hayne is the real deal and agree that you can't cut the rookie 4th rounder if thus far his up side potential is high. This one is going to be an incredible tough call for the coaching staff and I would miss Hunter, especially if a RB goes down.
Date: August 24, 2015 at 10:04 PM
Comment: At Al Soprano....kendall Hunter has Super Bowl Expericance???? HE WAS ON INJURED RESERVE IN THE SUPER BOWL HE DIDNT PLAY A SINGLE DOWN!!!
By: Al Soprano
Date: August 24, 2015 at 8:40 PM
Comment: Kendal Hunter has playoff and Super Bowl experience. He is an excellent pass protector and has great speed to the outside. He is a proven performer who has averaged over 4.6 yds per carry with 7 TDs. If he is 100%, Mike Davis goes to the practice squad. End of story.
Date: August 24, 2015 at 8:07 PM
Comment: Sadly, I have to agree with you. No fault of his own that he hasn't had a chance to display his talents and Hayne has been fantastic. I don't see how the Niners can cut him with all the international attention (and potential economic opportunities for the team) without causing a huge fan backlash. The team will probably showcase Kendall in the last couple of games to try to maximize his trade value. And then, barring an injury to another RB, he's gone.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: August 24, 2015 at 7:30 PM
Comment: Bonilla whose the "BSD" this year?
By: JR San Diego
Date: August 24, 2015 at 7:12 PM
Comment: I still haven't been able to find out anything about Kendall's status during training camp - Is he practicing at all? If not, maybe he goes on PUP list? I think he would have to get some preseason game action - and look good - to get a decent trade offer for him.
Date: August 24, 2015 at 6:45 PM
Comment: Come on man, Kendall Hunter is a proven NFL running back. I'm glad you getting clicks, but stop already.
Date: August 24, 2015 at 5:48 PM
Comment: Do you think it's possible Hunter gets traded? Maybe a 5th-7th round pick in 2017 to a RB needy team?
By: Joe from Australia
Date: August 24, 2015 at 5:25 PM
Comment: must get tense all these guys fighting for spots I think throwing in the rookie Hayne has lit a fire around the group and its a good thing time to turn down the hype on Jarryd and let the coach do his job it might be hard for some NRL fans given The respect he's earned as a footballer and a human being in the NRL .so calm down Australia step back let Jarryd write his own case on the field.its a big step on a bigger stage enjoy the ride
Date: August 24, 2015 at 5:10 PM
Comment: Kendall Hunter sign a one year deal.. his rookie deal is over and with the article you can say the same for reggie bush ...
By: Captain Critic
Date: August 24, 2015 at 4:45 PM
Comment: LOL, SMH
Can't wait to read your "Kendall Hunter, possible comeback 49er of the year"? when Hunter has a great season.
Bonilla=Vanilla in the Zone
By: Don Julius
Date: August 24, 2015 at 4:29 PM
Comment: Besides Kendall Hunter is in his final year of his original rookie contract.
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