NEW YORK, NY – Once again the New York Jets are in the news for making another surprising acquisition for the upcoming season. This time there may be some logic behind it. It was made official yesterday; they signed former Team USA Rugby 15s star Hayden Smith, who is Australian. Wait a second… did someone say former rugby star? Yes, someone did. Hayden was a USA Eagle.
Now this makes me wonder… Have the New York Jets been looking at my columns and seeing all the two-sport athlete posts and coverage on cross-over players from the NFL being successful in the NFL? Did Sexy Rexy [Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan] call a play from my playbook? Or did Tebow like my suggestion he play rugby and then figure Smith could tutor him, just in case? One can only wonder.
But back to this move… Unlike the Tim Tebow trade the Jets made last month, there is actually some logic behind this one. This, unlike the Tebow thing, is a pure football move. That doesn’t mean that I’m not still puzzled why the Jets would make the Tebow move – other than for ticket and jersey sales. Just answered my own question, didn’t I?
Anyway… Hayden Smith could one day be a very good tight end in the NFL. I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers tight end,) but this guy has the prototypical body to be a tight end in the NFL. On the downside, he played Division II ball… basketball. So, he hasn’t played any serious football. But rugby is football’s papa and the guy plays one of the most physically demanding positions in contact sports as a rugby lock/2nd row.
Basketball is why I compare Gates to Smith. Gates played basketball in college and did not comeback to football until after his NBA dream was squashed. Originally, Gates attended Michigan State University to play both basketball and football, but head coach Nick Saban wanted him to commit to football and he switched to Kent State University. NBA scouts felt he didn’t have a true position in the NBA, so Gates entered the NFL draft and went to the combine.
I’m not saying that Smith is going to be a Hall of Famer like Gates may be, but he could be successful. Yes, the tight end position is very complex because you have to know how to block, catch, and run routes but Smith has the size and speed to be successful. Smith is 6’6″ and 265 pounds and has been clocked with a 4.75 40-yard dash. Smith is bigger than Gates and his 40-time would put him somewhere in the top of the 2/3 of this year’s NFL Combine.
Still, the 800 lb gorilla in the locker-room is that Smith is yet to play a down of football and the NFL has the best of the best in that category. And while Smith is a good player, he’s not one of the top 2nd rowers in international rugby. Moreover, the NFL playbooks are very complex, a helluva lot more complex than any rugby playbook.
The bottom line is that while the odds are stacked against Hayden Smith, he is certainly enough of a physical specimen that any NFL franchise would love to have him and he has the physical toughness that you need to play in the NFL. Even if it doesn’t pan out, it is certainly worth a shot.
So, rugby and football fans, Hayden smith soared as an Eagle. But can he soar like as a Jet?