If the greatest return specialist in NFL history, Devin Hester, truly calls it a career, count Lovie Smith as the first official endorser of his Hall of Fame candidacy:
“Absolutely,” said Smith in a recent phone interview with CBS Chicago’s Chris Emma. “Whenever you say that somebody is the best at a position in the NFL, when you say they’re the best, the greatest of all time, he should be in the Hall of Fame. For me, he should be first ballot in the Hall of Fame.”
For what it’s worth, Hester has the numbers to back up Smith’s position.
Hester amassed 11,028 total return yards (on both punts and kicks), scored 19 return touchdowns (14 punt, 5 kick), and one other non-traditional touchdown that goes into the miscellaneous column. You might remember this missed field goal attempt that Hester turned into one of the most exciting plays in modern Bears history.
You can check out the rest of his career highlights here, if you’re interested in some nostalgia.
Admittedly, I can see how putting specialists in the Hall of Fame can be tricky. But maybe Hester – who ranks in the top-10 all-time in punt return touchdowns (1st), non-offensive touchdowns (1st), punt return yards (3rd), yards per punt return (9th), kick return touchdowns (8th), and total return yards (8th) – can be something of an exception. After all, he was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro.
One could even argue Hester’s case was made (or at least helped) by his inclusion on the All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
Put simply, Hester was a game-changer in more than one way. In the traditional sense, while Smith’s Bears were predicated on defensive dominance and offensive ball control, Hester provided both a spark and a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. Game plans were that much more difficult when teams had to figure out how to take that aspect away from the Bears.
Oftentimes that worked in the Bears’ favor. For example, short kicks (or kicks out of bounds) helped the Bears gain the edge in field position, allowing the offense to operate comfortably after defensive stops. Something like that doesn’t necessarily show up in box scores.
And of course, there is an argument to be made that Hester was the Bears best offensive threat/scoring option during the first five years of his Bears career.
Hester was also a game-changer in a hyperbolic sense, earning the first 100 speed rating in the history of the famed Madden NFL video game franchise (fire emoji, fire emoji, fire emoji).
It’s unfortunate that Hester never truly translated his ability to constantly burn special teams units into secondary-busting skills as a wide receiver. But he did turn out to be the most productive player out of the Bears’ 2006 draft class – a class that included Danieal Manning, Dusty Dvoracek, Jamar Williams, Mark Anderson, J.D. Runnels and Tyler Reed.
We’ll have to wait and see if this HOF train picks up any more steam outside of Lovie Smith, but there’s at least a case to be made. Where do you land?