Three first-year inductees received gold jackets this last weekend but next year bears an interesting name whose first-ballot status could surprise people
This past weekend the NFL Hall of Fame double-dipped and presented 28 different gold jackets and bronze busts to 2020’s and 2021’s inductees.
With all these different historic players, coaches, and announcers now enshrined in Canton, there are plenty more that are preparing to hear their name next off-season.
Demarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Hines Ward, and Andre Johnson are all eligible for the first time next year but there is a dark horse that is flying low under the radar as he did for much of his storied career.
That player is Bears legendary return-man and wide receiver, Devin Hester.
Hester’s prolific return skills made him a constant threat that could break through for touchdowns at any point in the game off any punt, kick, or missed field goal.
He broke countless records in his eleven seasons and still is the only player in NFL history to return the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl for a touchdown after doing so against the Colts in Super Bowl XLI (below).
In addition to Hester’s insane return game, he furthered his resume as a receiver for the Bears starting during his second season in the league.
Devin Hester outside the return game…
Hester’s receiving (and rushing) statistics are the only aspects of his career that could keep voters from unanimously electing the special teams’ threat into Canton in his first year of eligibility.
In his eight seasons as a Chicago Bear Hester recorded 219 catches for just over 2800 yards (12.8 yds/rec) and 14 receiving touchdowns. After Chicago, his stats dwindled but in Atlanta, he did catch 64.4% of his targets for over 500 yards and two TDs.
Hester’s minimal touches as a running back (36 total) only added a collective 116 yards and one TD to his career statistics.
To be fair though, most of Hester’s run game came from jet sweeps, trick plays, and the wildly popular “Wildcat” formation which Chicago used quite often during those years.
Why Hester could surprise everybody
Above all other facets regarding Hester’s illustrious career, there is still the long, long list of accolades that he accumulated during his time in the NFL.
The Bears’ 2nd-round pick in 2006 finished his career as a four-time Pro Bowler (’06, ’07, ’10, ’14), three-time All-Pro selection (’06, ’07, ’10), and the NFL record holder for most return touchdowns (20 total) which was previously held by Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
On top of these great achievements, Hester is also one of only three players to be selected to both the 2000s and 2010s All-Decade teams, the other two being Tom Brady and Julius Peppers.
Hester also sits at eighth in all-time return yards with 11,028 total yards. Only 3,695 of those yards came off punts while 7,333 came from kickoffs.
What’s even crazier is that Hester put up over 44% of those kickoff return yards in his final three seasons in the league. This includes his final year in Chicago when he racked up a career-high 1,436 return yards off kickoffs.
He currently only sits behind greats like Dante “the X-Factor” Hall, Brian Mitchell, Josh Cribbs, and Darren Sproles.
What do I think?
I believe Hester could very easily shock the world and end up as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Even Calvin “Megatron” Johnson did so this year after having the fifth-best odds to make it into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
I also think that Hester’s limited abilities outside of the return game, his lack of a Super Bowl ring, and his inconsistency over the course of his career could also deter voters from selecting him in his first year of eligibility.
In addition to that, it is apparent that the Hall of Fame rarely treats the great return men of the NFL with enough respect, which leads to doubt over Hester’s chances.
This rings especially true when you look at who all sits above him in total return yards. NFL legends like Dante “the X-Factor” Hall, Brian Mitchell, Josh Cribbs, and Mel Gray all lead Hester by at least 1,000 return yards and all are snubbed by Canton’s Hall of Fame voters.
Hester should eventually receive his gold jacket due to the way he championed the return specialist position, the way he scared opposing kickers and coaches, and the longevity of his career as a dominating kick returner but with the NFL you never know…