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The recent retirement of Jarryd Hayne from the NFL has got me thinking. Should he come back, as a back?

Since we are not likely to see Jarryd return any time soon (I hope I’m wrong but let’s play along anyway) I thought it would be fun to play a game of hypotheticals.

It’s no secret that Jarryd was ‘old’ for a running back. Especially a running back trying to learn the game from scratch.

We were told that inexperience, blocking technique and operating between the tackles are the reasons that Jarryd was sent back to the practice squad last season. Then Head Coach Jim Tomsula didn’t think Jarryd was big enough to be a ‘power back’.

Should the 49ers have persisted with Jarryd as a running back at all? Should they have wasted another minute trying to develop him into a back up running back at best? What if the 49ers got it wrong with Jarryd? What if instead of being a running back, they had of made him a wide receiver?

Now before you start the abuse, let me break it down for you. Let me explain my thought process.

Space – The final frontier

We heard repeatedly from the coaching staff about how great Jarryd is in space. We saw it ourselves last preseason and for years in the National Rugby League (NRL).

It is no secret that there is more open space available to a wide receiver and he showed could run basic patters. Last preseason also showed what he could with the broken-field running available to a wide receiver. Most notable the 18 yard reception against Denver. So why not put him where he operates best?

… he can play in space. He’s a premier athlete in the world in space – Jim Tomsula in pre-season

Including that catch against Denver, Jarryd caught three catches for 35 yards at an average of 11.7 yards in that preseason. He has also caught six passes for 27 yards in the regular season. OK, OK, I’ll get in first.

“But Carl”, I hear you say, “it doesn’t mean anything”.

No, it doesn’t. but what it shows is that he has the basic skills to play as a receiver. He showed that he could run a route, catch and run. The same as the preseason showed he had the skills worthy of playing as a running back. At the very least he showed an ability to catch passes in traffic. A skill which will be necessary if he is to make the switch.

Imagine this scenario last season.

Four wide set. Boldin, Smith out wide. Ellington and Hayne as the slot receivers and Hyde in the backfield. Think about it. Let it marinate for a little. Who do you cover?

Now imagine it in a Chip Kelly system.

What is a slot receiver?

A slot receiver is a player that lines up between the last offensive lineman and the wide receiver on that side of the line. The players circled below are lining up in what is known as the ‘slot’.


Players such as Julian Edelman of the Patriots, Cole Beasley of the Cowboys, and Randall Cobb of the Packers are three slot receiver that are among the most effective in the NFL currently.

When I studied this idea last season, Edelman has had 52 catches for 584 yards at an average of 11.2 yards per catch this year. Randall Cobb has had 36 catches for 377 Yards at an average 10.5 and Beasley with 22 catches for 214 yards at an average of 9.7 yards per catch.

Collectively they had 694 catches for 7882 yards all at over 10 yards per catch over their respective careers. From those statistics alone you can see how valuable an effective slot receiver can be to a team’s offense.

This type of production is what Jarryd would have needed to produce in order to excel at the position.

So what are the qualities of a good slot receiver? Could he even play the position?

Hands. No, not having them. Being able to catch and catch under pressure or in traffic. Having ‘soft’ hands as they say.

Running crisp routes. Takes practice and needs to be drilled, drilled and drilled in order to develop a relationship and trust with your quarterback.

The ability to understand the defender covering you, their traits and abilities, and the confidence to game plan against them and execute on game day.

The final piece is having no fear. The slot receiver will be covered by, and tackled by, hard-hitting linebackers and safeties so you need to be tough.

Jarryd would have had to work hard to gain the trust of his Chip Kelly to play this position, but his work ethic and natural athletic ability tell me he would not have any trouble making the transition to a slot wider receiver.

The rebuild

Now, of course, this is now all just a hypothetical, and the 49ers would have to take a risk in order to change Haynes designation but I think it would open up so many opportunities, and if there was a head coach to do it, it would have been Chip Kelly.

Opportunities for Hayne to develop a second skill set to complement his punt and kick returning skills. And opportunities for the 49ers to harness Jarryd’s skills for the benefit of the team.

At the very least it will reduce the learning curve Jarryd would have faced. By switching to wide receiver the blocking required (his weakest skill) would be less complex. Their would rarely be a tackle in site.

I understand that playing receiver is not all about running routes and catching. I know that there are nuances to the position that will also require some coaching.

All of these things could have been learned and developed under the offensive genious of Chip Kelly. He would have had a huge challenge to make the roster but since he has now retired, it’s all hypothetical.

So what do you think? Do you think I’ve gone mad? Have your say below and let me have it.

Before I go, one other thing. If Kelly ran a more traditional system, Jarryd could also line up as a small fullback and together with (now tight end) Bruce Miller and Carlos Hyde play a triple option. Nah, that’s silly. They couldn’t do that, could they?

Watch the video below and let that marinate.

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