The Chicago Bears Devin Hester entered the NFL as a return specialist and he did that job mighty well, totaling 11 punt and kickoff return touchdowns and 2,713 return yards (a 17.85 yards average) from the 2006 to 2007 seasons.
Hester was so explosive the coaching staff envisioned him as a top No. 1 receiver and made him split his duties, but the experiment has run its course and should end.
Since then, Hester has not been a productive receiver which has prevented Chicago from improving their wide receivers corps through free agency. Also, Hester's returning effectiveness has fallen because he is on the field longer.
No. 23 has been a receiver since late 2007. In four-plus seasons, Hester has 172 catches for 2,273 yards and 12 touchdowns. That averages to 43 catches a year, 568 yards and three touchdowns. Those are decent numbers, but Hester has never been a bona fide lead receiver.
In 2010, Hester was fifth in catches (40), fourth in yards (475) and third in touchdowns (four) even after being a starting receiver. Running back Matt Forte had more catches and yards (51 and 547) than Hester.
Even after four years, Hester still is prone to running poor routes and dropping balls (six last season), costing the offense at key times.
Teams key onto Hester and he cannot create consistent separation. Against the Saints, Hester was targeted nine times and had a lone fourth quarter catch for 17 yards.
The coaching staff has misplaced faith in Hester's receiving abilities and overrate his importance in the offensive scheme. He is the team's fourth best receiver at most and is taking a starting spot away from Earl Bennett or Roy Williams (both are currently injured), who are better route runners and more reliable targets.
With Hester as the coaches' No. 1 receiver, that prevented the Bears from seriously pursuing free agent receivers like Plaxico Burress, Anquan Boldin, Donte' Stallworth and Brandon Marshall, who was quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite target in Denver.
Hester's effectiveness as a returner has fallen since becoming a receiver. Since 2008, No. 23 has 2,321 yards and three touchdowns, but he had no touchdowns in 2008 and 2009 while his average dropped to 12.3 yards (partly since teams kick away from him). However, Hester seems less explosive on his returns because he runs 30-plus routes each game.
A possible solution is relegating Hester to his former return duties and replacing him at receiver with someone like T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Terrell Owens, who had a very productive 2010 despite his age.
The Hester at receiver experiment should end so he could be a more productive returner and the Bears could improve their wide receiver depth.
What are your thoughts of Hester as a receiver? Feel free to write your opinion.