Devin Hester Is More Than JUST a "Specialist"..........
http://a.espncdn.com/espncitysites/p...og_nfl_chi.pngChicago Bears Report
Devin Hester's impact beyond 'specialist'
November, 18, 2011Nov 18
By Kevin Seifert
http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2011/1118...ter_sy_576.jpgTasos Katopodis /Getty ImagesDevin Hester is one return away from tying Deion Sanders' NFL record of 19 TD returns of any kind.
Chicago Bears kick returner/receiver Devin Hester is 29. So it's reasonable to assume the actual debate on his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is at least 10 years -- and probably a few more touchdown returns -- away. Already, however, Hester's unique status has conjured discussion about his place in history and whether he'll ultimately be recognized as one of the best players of this era.
Here are the facts:
* Less than six years into his career, Hester has obliterated the NFL record for career kick returns for touchdowns. He has 17 in his 85-game career, most recently an 82-yard punt return last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, plus one more in the playoffs. It took Brian Mitchell 223 games to finish with 13, the previous record.
* When you add in his return of a missed field goal in 2006, Hester is one return away from tying Deion Sanders' NFL record of 19 touchdown returns of any kind. Sanders played in 188 games before retiring.
* The Hall of Fame has never inducted a player based on his impact as a returner. In fact, there is only one "pure" special-teams player in the Hall: Place-kicker Jan Stenerud. Hester's record-breaking production, not to mention his pace, has spurred passionate discussion among his supporters. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher provided a particularly direct assessment this week during an interview with ESPN 1000.
"He's the greatest of all time at what he does," Urlacher said. "And in my opinion, when you're the greatest of all time at your position, you should be in the Hall of Fame. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion. He's going to have 30-something touchdown returns if people keep kicking to him. It's a no-brainer for me. I just don't see how people can not agree with that."
From my amateur vantage point, the best way to consider Hester as a potential Hall of Fame candidate is to expand the analysis of his impact. It's going to be difficult for voters to elect a player based solely on "30-something" touchdown returns over the course of a decade, if that's indeed what Hester finishes his career with.
The reality is that punt and kickoff returns make up less than 10 percent of the total plays in an average game; the figures were about 12 of 138 plays in 2010. That's essentially the definition of a specialist who is hard-pressed to make a broad-based impact on games when he is typically exposed to so few opportunities. That's probably why neither Mitchell nor Dante Hall (12 return touchdowns) nor Eric Metcalf (12) have received serious consideration as a Hall of Fame candidate.
But Urlacher made an important point this week: "He changes every football game he's in."
Bears' field position with Devin Hester:
Bears Avg.-------- NFL Avg.
|2006 ||32.6 ||3rd ||30.4 |
|2007 ||34.5 ||1st ||30.7 |
|2008 ||33.4 ||1st ||30.3 |
|2009 ||32.4 ||3rd ||29.7 |
|2010 ||33.7 ||1st ||29.9 |
|2011 ||27.4 ||19th ||28.0 |
|Source: Chicago Bears |
(Kind of interesting that the first year in his career we aren't in the top three in staring field position is the year they decide to move the kick offs up five yards and reduce his opportunities for returns. Why didn't they just be honest and call it the "Devin Hester Rule") :badmood:
How? By impacting the Bears' field position. Take a look at the chart accompanying this post, which we present after some dutiful research by Mike Corbo of the Bears' communications office.
The Bears have had the NFL's best field position, based on the start of their average drive, in three of Hester's five full seasons. They ranked No. 3 in the other two. (All but this year. Kind of funny eh? It's pretty obvious that Devin hasn't lost his skills)
Multiple factors contributed to that success, including their Bears' strong defense of this era. And it's worth noting that they had top-10 field position in four of the five seasons preceding Hester's arrival. But it would be foolish to ignore the role of Hester's returns and also of kicks intentionally shortened or otherwise diverted by opponents to keep the ball away of him. (And this is just looking at KOR's. How many punts are placed short and OB just to keep it away from him?)
There are all kinds of politics, waiting games and backlogs involved in election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Given the difficulty that players like Kevin Greene (160 career sacks) and Cris Carter (1,101 receptions) have had getting attention, it's hard to imagine that a couple-dozen touchdown returns alone would put Hester on track for induction. (But players need to be considered in comparison with their peers at the position they play. As a return specialist and game changer Devin Hester has no peers or at least those he HAD have long since been left in his dust)
But when you consider him a player that impacts field position all game long, as Hester appears to have done for large portions of his career, then you're moving the conversation away from a specialist and towards the kind of criteria voters are looking for. If you're a proponent of Hester's burgeoning candidacy, that's the direction you need to head. (That's another factor that should be considered. While no one will ever argue that Hester is a polished WR his presence on the field on offense also impacts the game. He may not be the slickest pass catcher on the field but he's not a guy you can ignore either. Those TD's he's made as a WR should be counted in his favor as well. No other player with the possible exception of Gale Sayers has had the impact Hester has both as a KR/PR star AND an offensive player. Maybe some stronger receiving stats would help push him along)