Devin Hester: Will Greatest-Ever Return Man Make the Hall of Fame?

Brandon LantzCorrespondent IIOctober 3, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 11: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears yells to the corwd before returning a kick-off against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field on September 11, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Falcons 30-12. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With eight NFL return records, Devin Hester is the greatest return man of all time.  Kickoffs.  Punts.  It makes no difference. 

Everyone watched last season as he broke Brian Mitchell’s record for career combined kick return touchdowns, currently at 15.  He also holds the record for punt return touchdowns in a season (4), combined kick return touchdowns in a season (6), combined kick return touchdowns in a rookie season (5), kickoff return touchdowns in a game (2), and combined kick return touchdowns in a game (2),  which he achieved twice.

Yesterday, he became the only player in NFL history to return 11 punts for touchdowns in his career.  The player who held most of these records previous to Hester was Brian Mitchell.  Mitchell played for 13 NFL seasons—this is Hester’s fifth.  He has achieved all of this in roughly 150 fewer games than his predecessor. 

But the question is, "Can Devin Hester make the Hall of Fame?"

What’s standing in his way? 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has very little respect for the third phase.  There are zero pure return men in the Hall, zero punters and only one pure placekicker.  Special  teams are vastly underrepresented.  But will that change going forward, as they continue to play a larger and larger role in the modern game?

By the time that Hester retires, his numbers will be staggering, despite the fact he’s being overutilized as a mediocre receiver, and taking into account the eventual performance decline in his later years. 

Even as teams attempt to keep the ball away from him, and the NFL rule changes to reduce returns,  Hester will retire the greatest return man that the game has ever seen.  He surely deserves a place in the Hall for that. 

Let’s hope that when that day comes, the Hall is ready to honor special-teams players of this caliber with the credit that they deserve.