On April 3rd of last year, the New York Jets signed Australian rugby player Hayden Smith as a tight end. On August 21st, he was waived by the team, and a day later signed to the practice squad. On October 27th, he was promoted to the active roster on the team. And today, Smith has had one year of professional football under his belt, and a ton of potential to become a good tight end in the NFL.
Smith was a World Cup rugby player in his years before he decided to give American football a try. After workouts with a few NFL teams, the Jets bit the bullet and signed Smith.
The signing was an extreme low risk, high reward type of deal, even though that high reward has yet to surface. Smith was able to earn his way onto the active roster during the season, while at the same time learning the ropes of the game of football. Standing at 6’6″ and possessing great hand-eye coordination through rugby, it only takes a bit of teaching and experience before Smith can be effective in the NFL.
Smith had one reception for 16 yards last season, which was his only target for the year. Playing behind Jeff Cumberland, Dustin Keller, and Konrad Reuland, Smith will now have the opportunity to go through mini camps, training camps, and a preseason again, ultimately battling it out for the starting tight end spot. Currently, Cumberland and Rueland are the only competition for Smith, assuming that they don’t draft a tight end. With Smith’s athleticism and a bit of experience, there is no reason why Smith should not be a productive player for the Jets.
The Jets might have made a mistake in trying to convert him into a tight end as opposed to possibly a defensive end, but any time you have a freak athlete with good size and coordination, with teaching and experience, the finishing product can be good and that’s what the Jets are hoping for.