Hayden Smith is making the leap from Rugby star, to NFL tight end with the Jets this season. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Everything tends to move in cycles, and sports are no exception. When every team in every league are trying to one-up each other it leads to shifts from speed, to power and vice versa. Now it looks like there is a groundswell in the NFL to pursue non-traditional avenues to find the ubiquitous 'football player', someone who doesn't have a fixed position, or specialty, but rather one who is an athlete first who can be multiple things.
Ron Rivera seems to adhere to this kind of outside the box thinking. If he didn't then we probably wouldn't see Cam Newton in a Panthers uniform. Our franchise QB is a melange of all things at the position- cerebral in the huddle, a cannon for an arm, unmatched physical tools and a dominant running style. Given the competitor Cam is I bet he'd like to line up at outside linebacker too- if the coaching staff would ever let him.
Like him or not, Tim Tebow fits the bill of 'football player' as well, but is completely dissimilar to Cam. He doesn't have the arm, the ability, or the talent- but he's a fierce compeditor who at the very least gets players around him to buy into what he brings to the table. We saw this in Denver.
Now the New York Jets have pursued another 'football player' that hits close to home for me, and we'll discuss what 26 year-old Hayden Smith is bringing to the table in NY, and whether the Panthers could also be looking at these non-traditional angles.
After the jump
Hayden Smith played basketball in college, and has been playing professional rugby for the past few years. Standing 6'7" and weighing 240 lbs the Jets are taking a flier on the Australian with no football background and hoping they can will someone with his ideal size into the tight end position. There's also talk he could be used as an outside linebacker, should the need arise.
Nothing would make me happier than to see a converted Rugby player in a Panthers' uniform, but right now that seems unlikely at any traditional position. However, I am led to believe the organization are scouring the ranks international players who could be looking to make the jump to the NFL as a punter.
LSU's Brad Wing turned college football on it's head this year by being one of the most dominant college punters we've seen in a long time, and he's still a freshman. Moreover, he's a former Australian Rules football player who looked to leave the country after high school when he just wasn't 'feeling it'- a feeling I know all too well. Sadly it will be another 2-years at the earliest before we see Wing move to the NFL, but some scouts are already touting him as punter who will be the highest selected since Ray Guy.
Closer to home we see Alex Kinal at Wake Forest, another Australian rules player who is looking to make the transition. Both Wing and Kinal will ultimately join the rants of Matt McBriar, Sav Rocca, Ben Graham as other Aussies who are currently in the NFL as punters.
Whether it's a punter, or a utility- Jordan Senn-like player it's undeniable that the scouting process is getting deeper and more involved. All teams are looking to get a leg up by finding pure athletes, and then worrying about how you fit them into a system. These aren't players who will be future NFL starters, they don't have the specialization needed- but for depth it's a sound model.