San Francisco 49ers

49ers among favorites to land Australian rugby star

G’day, mate: Former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne is considering the 49ers among other NFL teams.
G’day, mate: Former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne is considering the 49ers among other NFL teams. Getty Images

The 49ers are one of a handful of teams in the running to sign former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne, who presumably would compete for the role of return specialist in 2015.

Hayne, who turned 27 last week, worked out for the 49ers in December, his agent, Jack Bechta, said Tuesday. He also had workouts with the Seahawks and Lions. The Daily Telegraph in Australia reported this week that Hayne would sign a futures deal with the Lions and Hayne’s Wikipedia page says he has signed with the Lions, but Bechta said no deal is in place. He said he expected Hayne to make a decision by early next week.

"Trent (Baalke) and his team had a blueprint for how they could help Jared succeed that was very intriguing and on point," Bechta said. Hayne also met Jim Tomsula, then the team's defensive line coach, on his visit. During his stint in NFL Europe, Tomsula worked extensively with players who had little experience with American football. Defensive end Lawrence Okoye, who is from South London and who had played rugby but not American football, chose to join the 49ers in 2013 largely because of Tomsula's background.

The 49ers last year mainly relied on then-rookie Bruce Ellington in the return game even though Ellington had limited experience handling punts in college. The 49ers ranked 29th in punt-return average (6.5 yards) and ninth (24.5 yards) in kickoffs.

San Francisco also signed former LSU standout Trindon Holliday in December. Holliday, 28, is 5-5, 166 pounds while Ellington, who could have a bigger role at receiver in 2015, is 5-9, 197 pounds.

Hayne would offer more heft. He stands 6-2 and weighs 226 pounds. He recently ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash in a pro-day style workout for NFL scouts. That's virtually as fast as the 40-yard dash Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- who most believe will be the first running back taken in the May draft -- ran on Saturday. Gordon is 6-1, 215 pounds.

Bechta said Hayne's most natural position is running back but that he has good hands and might be able to play wide receiver.

Hayne last year played for the Parramatta Eels of the National Rugby League in Australia. He led the league in scoring and was co-winner of the league's player-of-the-year award. He also won that honor in 2009.

Bechta noted that while Hayne had no background in American football, he was accustomed to punt-like situations, which occur throughout a rugby match. "They're used to guys coming at them on the run, used to using their peripheral vision," he said. "In terms of being a ready-made punt returner, it's very, very natural."

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