If you live in the Bay Area, you’re probably quite familiar with Hayne Plane mania. According to some football experts, the story of Jarryd Hayne is the biggest of preseason, making a seamless switch from rugby league in Australia to the cauldron of the NFL.
No one from his home in Western Sydney is popping any champagne corks yet, as the San Francisco 49ers prepare to cut their squad to the 53 men required to win the Super Bowl in February. But observers cannot deny the 27-year-old’s powerful running style has defensive coordinators sweating.
Where did this guy come from? Are there more like him? Where can my football team find a diamond from the rough like the 49ers have? Well, listen up because there’s good news. Jarryd Hayne left rugby league at the peak of his powers, leaving a sport he was familiar with to chase his dream and NFL scouts know there is a hotbed of talent out there.
What is becoming a reality for Jarryd Hayne is that he is working to break down barriers. At its core you need great athleticism, an ability to take the hits and to dish out the hits. Punt returns don’t faze Hayne because for his old job, he had no one to shepherd his runs.
Now the Hayne Plane did slow down for his third hit out this week when some of his runs didn’t follow the playbook. Coming from halfway around the world into elite football does take adjustment; so new recruits from other sports have a lot further to go to get up to speed.
Who could be the next Jarryd Hayne? We’ve scaled every corner of the globe and come up with the top 15 athletes who should switch to the NFL.
15 Jon Jones
Finding himself suspended from the UFC and stripped of his title, Jon Jones didn't have anybody in his division who could keep up with him, so why not pursue a new challenge? At 28 years old, it's not too late for Bones to make a run at the NFL.
With his 6-foot-4, 205 pound frame, with a ridiculously long reach of 84.5 inches, who's to say Jones couldn't catch some passes where cornerbacks could only dream of reaching the ball?
14 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is just too good of an athlete to leave off this list. The 6-foot-3, 205 pounder would make a great fit at cornerback with his amazing speed, and good hands. Corners are taller and bigger than they used to be and wide receivers may have a hard time trying to keep up with Westbrook running down a field. Westbrook would have to fix his injury issues, but perhaps training his body like an NFL player would fix some of those issues.
13 Brian Shaw
The 2015 World's Strongest Man, Brian Shaw could alter his training slightly to build himself up for a career on an offensive line. At 6-foot-8 and over 400 pounds, Shaw would have to lean out a little and get light on his feet, but could you imagine a pass rusher trying to get around Shaw to get to the quarterback? Shaw is 33 years old now, where careers at O-line begin to wind down, but perhaps Shaw could get a couple of good years in.
12 LeBron James
LeBron James clearly wants to bring a few championships to the city of Cleveland before his basketball career is all said and done, but before LeBron gives up his athletic career for good, he should make a go at the NFL. LeBron is one of the most gifted athletes of this generation and standing at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds would make LeBron a force at tight end. With the amount of tight ends in the NFL who have previously played basketball, it just seems like something LeBron should try.
11 Andrew McCutchen
This entry isn't to imply that Andrew McCutchen should quit playing baseball (because he's damn good at it) but he seems like the kind of athlete that could play two sports at once. McCutchen could do what Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson did before him and play in the NFL and MLB at the same time. For what it's worth, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin visited Pirates training camp earlier this year and said, ""I'll bet you (McCutchen) can settle under a punt."
10 Randy Orton
How would you like a 12-time WWE World Champion under the helmet scrimmaging across the defensive line? I know a few teams who could do a lot worse than call up the 35-year-old boy from Knoxville, Tennessee.
OK he might be focusing on starting a career in movies these days, but that only confirms what we like about Randy – he craves the spotlight! Destroying opponents is what he loves, topped off with a few grudges against the likes of Wade Barrett, Sheamus and Kane for good measure. Orton has the strength and size (250 lbs., 6ft 5) built for any contact sport, period.
9 Usain Bolt
4th down in overtime, team huddled 20 yards out from their own line. The call comes in – we need to throw a Hail Mary. Name me a cornerback in the league that could last the distance with Usain Bolt, because they should be running in the Olympics.
The World Champion Jamaican sprinter drips swagger and can run the length of a football field while he taunts his opponents for fun. Bolt’s credentials only went up when he took the hit from a segue this week, bouncing back up without a scratch. The track and field star stands 6-foot-5, carrying a slender 207 lbs.
8 Sam Burgess
What if we could find a player who could play wide receiver and linebacker? Does such a player exist? Welcome one and all to Englishman Sam Burgess, a freak of nature in the rugby community and a worthy recipient of making the Top 10 list.
We already know he can switch from rugby league to rugby union (yes, they are different sports!). He has the running speed of an outside back, but the brutal physicality of a forward. Give this 6-foot-5, 255 pound Yorkshire native a set of pads and watch him go, because at 26 years of age we have no doubt he would make a huge splash in the NFL.
7 Cain Velasquez
Intimidation is part and parcel of football. It’s why a lot of parents won’t let their kids play the game. That wouldn’t be a problem for our next man, the frightening Cain Velasquez. A quick check of the CV – 2-time UFC Heavyweight Champion and number 10 ranked in the UFC pound-for-pound fighter.
The only doubts a scout could have for the 33-year-old is learning the intricacies of the game, not getting into any unnecessary fights and keeping away from injury. Aside from that, running through a handful of men to sack the quarterback would be like taking candy from a baby for this 240 lbs. terrier.
6 Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams is the greatest hypothetical linebacker you’ve never heard of. The tattooed Maori has made not one but two successful switches from rugby league to union, and now forms a devastating backline with the New Zealand All Blacks who will attempt to defend their World Cup title this September in England.
Sonny has the movie star good looks that promoters would love, thrives on contact and can take a pass from any angle. At the tender age of 30 with a frame (6-foot-4, 238 pounds) to match, no one from either rugby code has figured out how to stop him yet. You can’t create a player like that from college, it’s not possible.
5 John Cena
We’re hoping the saying “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks” is off the mark for Mr. Cena. Yet if any 38-year-old could make a fist of a football career it’s the WWE superstar who transcends the sport. Okay, there is no way the WWE would let the face of the operation walk out and leave, but stranger things have happened.
For starters Cena would bring across all his fans to any team he chooses, the jerseys would fly off the walls and he could write his own check. Is there anything left for Cena to do other than to don a helmet and return to the offensive line, where he was in college? Here's a scenario for you; Cena joins his home area New England Patriots and protects Tom Brady's blindside.
4 Brock Lesnar
In Brock Lesnar’s case, it would be switching back to the NFL! Wrestling aficionados don’t need a history lesson to know that Lesnar was cut from the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive tackle during the 2004-05 preseason before returning to the sport he thrived in.
What Brock has against any other potential convert is that he knows the game and has tasted what it’s like to be in the inner sanctum of an NFL dressing room. Recently named Wrestler of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Lesnar has nothing left to prove in the ring, only unfinished business on the football field.
3 Greg Inglis
Speak to anyone from Australia or New Zealand who asks which rugby league player could kill it in the NFL and they will come up with one name – Greg Inglis. The lanky indigenous star has won premierships by producing scintillating magic that leaves defenses in knots. Given the chance, he would run past, around or through any cornerbacks standing in his way.
At 28, Inglis is only a few months older than Hayne. Standing 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds the boy from Kempsey, New South Wales has a bag of tricks suited to any football scenario. Comfortable under the high ball, runs smooth angles and barrages over tacklers. What more do you need?
2 Julian Savea
The All Blacks are one of the most feared and respected sporting institutions in the world. Their ability to produce damaging ball runners flying down the wings is akin to a production line that won’t stop. The latest in this modern batch is Julian Savea.
The Kiwi international steamrolls over his counterparts with ease and would be a sensational pick up for any franchise. Only 25-years old, Savea has his best years ahead of him. For the record the bulking winger packs a punch at 6ft 4, 238 lbs.
1 Israel Folau
Anyone lucky enough to be in Chicago this weekend do yourself a favor and head to the USA Eagles game against the Wallabies. The Aussie fullback will be on hand, so don’t take our word for it. In short, he ticks every box you care to mention – pace, power, fending ability, defusing kicks under the highball and poise under pressure. All 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds of him leaves us in no doubt he would annihilate the NFL.
Folau is only the second man ever to play all three major codes in Australia – rugby league, union and Aussie Rules (AFL). A year younger than Jarryd Hayne (26), if you want to know if down under can produce more of what the 49ers discovered then get in touch with Israel Folau’s agent, because he is the real deal. Just be prepared to fork out the big dollars, he won’t come cheap.