The Challenge Ahead for Devin Hester

Devin Hester had no peers when it came to excitement on returns, but voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have to decide whether this is enough to put him in Canton ahead of many other offensive or defensive standouts
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Devin Hester has become eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration this year and it's going to be difficult for him to make it regardless of how exciting Bears fans and others found his returns.

If he does make it, this first year might be one of his best shots because the list of top players doesn't seem so overwhelming. It is formidable, though.

Players like Demarcus Ware, Steve Smith, Robert Mathis, Andre Johnson, Vince Wilfork, Anquan Boldin are eligible, and some holdovers from last year like Reggie Wayne and Jared Allen will be among those thought of as favorites after not getting elected last year. 

This won't be like some years where a handful of quarterbacks are locks to make it but it still will be difficult.

All of these players were excellent at their positions but none ever had the tag slapped on them by their coach as the best of all time. Lovie Smith used to call Hester the GOAT before it was even a trendy term.

Hester certainly was the most exciting of all time at returning kicked balls because he scored touchdowns on punt returns far more often than anyone else and was a threat on kick returns.

However, is it actually accurate to call him the greatest return man of all time? He definitely scored more touchdowns.

Not No. 1 at Everything

Hester doesn't rank in the top eight for kick return touchdowns. He had five. Josh Cribbs (8), Cordarrelle Patterson (8), Leon Washington (8), Mel Gray (6), Dante Hall (6), Ollie Matson (6), Gale Sayers (6) and Travis Williams (6) all had more.

Sayers and Matson are in the hall of fame but not because they were great return men. They were also all-time great players on offense.

Hester wasn't among the game's greats at anything except returns and his ranking depends on the statistic.

Hester is tied for 70th in kick return average at 24.9. 

Quintin Demps (15th) and Danieal Manning (26th) rank higher than he did, as well as former Bear Ron Smith (57th). Sayers is the all-time leader at 30.6 and Patterson second at 29.8.

Hester certainly was the most explosive punt returner of all time with 14 touchdowns on punts. No one is close. Eric Metcalf is next best with 10 and then Brian Mitchell with nine.

A Chicago Bear is also the all-time punt return average leader. It's not Hester. 

George McAfee averaged 12.8 yards per punt return for his career and is No. 1. Hester is tied for eighth all time in average for punt returns at 11.7.

Standards Used Will Tell the Tale

It obviously depends on what metric is used to determine the best return man of all time.

Hester was without doubt the scariest for the opposition to face. As the world saw in Super Bowl XLI, he could alter a game in an instant.

Whether this is enough to sway hall of fame voters to give him support over players who were on the field every down on defense winning games with big plays or making big receptions on offense is the real question.

There were 62 total offensive plays for a team in the average game last year in the NFL but only 3.4 combined punt and kick returns per game.

It's a matter of whether voters will ever consider naming someone who played a big role on special teams over those who played on so many more plays.

Then again, when there are so few returns in games might it make what Hester did even more special?

If Hester's playing career occurred now, it's unlikely he'd ever get enough support to make it. Kick returns have been rendered almost obsolete by rule changes the NFL made in the interest of player safety.

This wasn't this case when Hester played. The old rules still applied and he made his impact when kick returns meant more.

It will be up to selectors to weigh this impact and make the decision.

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