As we’ve done in years past, we’re doing our Roster Countdown series of posts as we get ready for the regular season. See the full list of players we’ve covered so far here.
Background: Hayden has had what might be the most original story in coming to the Jets. Smith grew up in the town of Bullaburra, near Sydney, Australia. While training with the basketball team the Sydney Kings, Hayden gained a scholarship to play and study in the United States. He went on to study Finance at the New York Institute of Technology and then transferred to Metro State College in Denver to complete his degree and changed sports from basketball to rugby. Smith knew rugby, but had never played it competitively until 2008. Within weeks of starting he played for the All-American Team and following his graduation, played with the Denver Barbarians, being named to the 2008 Rugby All-American team. After Denver, Smith joined the English Saracens FC during the 2008-9 season on an academy contract playing with the Saracens Storm. Based on his work there, Smith was raised to the first team squad and played with the first team for a few seasons playing in both the Aviva Premiership as well as the Heineken Cup. Back in the US, Smith became a regular with the the US National team, the Eagles after gaining residency in the US. Smith helped the US qualify for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and he started all four group stage matches. Smith’s last game came in the World Cup against Italy in September of 2011. After finishing his rugby career, Smith sought to play in the NFL and worked out for the Jets, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins and the Saints, despite never playing football. The Jets signed Smith last April and was signed to the Jets’ practice squad before seeing time on the active roster in the second half of the 2012 season. Smith showed promise as a blocker and pass-catcher.
2013 Projection: Smith’s roster spot seems somewhat uncertain with the addition of Kellen Winslow to the team. Still, Smith has improved greatly from last year and the game is slowing down for him now that he understands the nuances of it, and is learning the system. Everything was new for Smith last season, but he seems to be picking up the game quickly. Smith was a star of spring practices, making a number of nice grabs in front of the press. Smith might not be ready to be a number one tight end, but he’s a very gifted athlete and is smart enough to pick up the game quickly. The Jets are looking to get more production out of their tight ends this year, so assuming Smith can make the roster, he could be a big help on special teams as well as add value to the blocking game and pass attack.