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What exactly do Jets have in rugby star Hayden Smith?

The New York Jets should be perfectly pleased with the productive Dustin Keller, but having a Gronkowski in your division perhaps has the effect of tight-end envy.

Last week, the team signed Hayden Smith, an Australia native and champion rugby player who will turn 27 on Tuesday.

Hayden Smith's combination of size and speed led to his unique opportunity in the NFL.
Hayden Smith's combination of size and speed led to his unique opportunity in the NFL. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

It's a smart gambit for Gang Green, who roll the dice on an athletic big man with the hope he takes to the game as a tight end. Best-case scenario, you get your own Antonio Gates. Worst case? You have some entertaining practice tape and Smith gets another stamp on his passport.

Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus put together a detailed breakdown of Smith's attributes and potential roadblocks standing in the way of an NFL career. We've condensed it below:

Working for Smith

• Raw athletic talent - Smith (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) is a large man who can also move. His college hoops background suggests he's not Frankenstein in shorts, and his reported 4.75 time in the 40 certainly qualifies as NFL-level athleticism.

• Rugby background - Smith didn't play in the highest-level rugby league in the world, but the English Premier division is respected. Smith became a star in this league and played lock forward -- known as the position that most relies on brute force. According to Monson: "Locks are vital components to the strength of a scrum and they need to have an impressive base of power and leg-drive."

Working against Smith

• History - Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham have proved basketball players can make the transition, but rugby players rarely have even attempted to make the shift. A notable example: Martin Johnson, a one-time England World Cup winning captain, who joined the 2001 San Francisco 49ers during training camp. Johnson quickly found he was a man without a country -- not big enough to be a lineman, not athletic enough to cut it at tight end. Smith's size and speed should give him a better opportunity, but he'll still be attempting to set a precedent.

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• The learning curve - Smith obviously has physical skills, but can he translate them effectively? You need more than size to be an effective blocker, and Smith will represent a blank slate to coaches tasked with teaching him the techniques and nuances of the craft. If he doesn't take to this, it's over before it began. Another challenge? Catching the ball (and maintaining possession) as a bunch of linebackers and safeties try to punish you. Rugby is a physical game, but not in this way.

Bottom line

For Jets fans hoping their team slyly imported a 1,500-yard receiver, please take this time to temper expectations. If Smith were a hamburger, he'd be bloody rare. If all goes to plan, his most likely destination is the Jets' practice squad, where he can learn how to become a football player. Smith will be a project in every sense of the word.

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