There is no question, the San Francisco 49ers have had their fair share of mediocre punt returners over the past two decades. From RB Dexter Carter to most recently WR Kyle Williams, the Forever Faithful have endured an abundance of weak return-men since their last Super Bowl run in 1994.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) September 10, 2015
The lone exception of course was WR Ted Ginn Jr. who proved his worth, as he paced the team from 2010-2012. But since then it has been a roller coaster ride, as the team tried to fill his shoes with RB LaMichael James in 2013 and second-year WR Bruce Ellington last year. However, all is not lost, as the team finally found their man in Australian Rugby League star RB Jarryd Hayne.
A player who has transitioned to the NFL game seamlessly, Hayne continues to look the part of a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. And that’s why it’s imperative that Hayne starts the 2015 season on the active roster, as the team’s primary punt returner.
No offense to 10-year veteran RB Reggie Bush, but he no longer possesses the lateral quickness, speed, or agility to take it to the house in the return-game. In fact, the last time Bush went the distance was back in 2008 with the New Orleans Saints.
Store: NinerFans.com Team Store
Not to mention, Bush’s skill-set would be better suited for the short-area passing game and read-option, it doesn’t make much sense to have Bush fielding punts when Hayne has already proven his worth in that capacity throughout the preseason.
There’s your #49ers RB Jarryd Hayne as he wraps up his pre-game warmup A video posted by Ryan Sakamoto ? (@sakamotoryan_) on
However, 49ers special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey was quick to put on the brakes on the Hayne Plane hype this afternoon. “We have to keep everything in perspective,” Coach T-Mac told 49ers beat writers. “He’s a rookie. Just because he’s from 3,000 miles away or wherever he’s from, he’s still a rookie in this league.”
So if not Hayne or Bush then who will garner the punt return duties? That job may go to second-year WR Bruce Ellington. In 2014, Ellington returned 23 punts for 188 yards all while making 12 fair catches in the process.
#49ers RB Jarryd Hayne just needs open space… A video posted by Ryan Sakamoto ? (@sakamotoryan_) on
Let’s be honest, sure Ellington has the speed to burn, but does he have the lateral quickness and vision to cut across the grain in the open-field like Hayne? I don’t think so. And while Hayne is indeed a “rookie,” the fact that he’s averaged 18.1 yards per return on nine punts is enough for me to believe he can get the job done.
#49ers RB Jarryd Hayne BREAKS ANKLES on this punt return! LIKE if you think he will make the team… A video posted by Ryan Sakamoto ? (@sakamotoryan_) on
Aside from the numbers, let’s look at his rare combination of hand-eye coordination, quickness, and vision. When evaluating the game-film above you will notice the “gunner” barreling down on Hayne as he readies himself to field the punt. Hayne, realizing the gunner is in tackling proximity, fields the punt, then instantaneously uses his lateral agility to side-step the gunner, who was initially in great position to make a play. Once he makes his move, he is off to the races.
That’s something you can’t coach.
Where I’m getting at is Hayne has a good sense of where pressure is coming from and reacts accordingly. That’s a rare gift that only certain players possess. We’ve seen it with CB Devin Hester and we’ve seen it with WR Dante Hall — that’s the type of excitement that Hayne brings to the table.
And while 49ers undrafted rookie WR DeAndrew White had a far better stat line, as he finished the preseason by returning four punts for a 22.8 average, it’s a small sample size, leaving Hayne as my obvious choice as the team’s primary return-man.
Whether or not Hayne suits up on Monday Night remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure. Hayne has proven his worth in more ways than one, while easily separating himself as the team’s top return man despite his “rookie” label.
Follow Me on Social Media: