Watching the Chicago Bears Monday night and seeing that performance by Devin Hester made me wonder about something that at first blush may seem idiotic: Are we watching a future Hall of Fame performer?
On the surface, a knee-jerk reaction might be an immediate "hell no," given that there are currently no plaques in Canton for kick and/or punt returners. Heck, there aren't even any punters in football's holy shrine. Ray Guy, anyone?
But there are kickers, so why not kick returners? Especially one as great as the Bears' No. 23.
Last night, Hester set the NFL's all-time record for touchdowns by a return man with his 14th dash to the house. That is impressive. But there is another thing that makes this even more impressive.
He is only 28.
Now, Brian Mitchell, the man who held the record that Hester broke, has not sniffed—and may not ever sniff—the Hall of Fame. But he played 14 seasons and racked up many of his TDs earlier in his career. People forget.
But one omission does not justify another. Perhaps Mitchell deserves to be enshrined.
After all, he is second all-time in total yardage to Jerry Rice. According to Wikipedia, "He is also one of only four players to record four seasons of over 2,000 total yards (the others being Marshall Faulk, Dante Hall and Tiki Barber) and missed out on a fifth by only five yards."
Still, has Hester accomplished enough at this point such that he would be a candidate if he never scored again? No. But who knows how many more TDs he will get before he calls it a career?
If Hester hits paydirt seven or eight more times, that should be enough to at least generate a serious discussion.
Who knows how many more Hester might have already if he hadn't been given incentive to focus on being a receiver? While he will never be a true No. 1 wideout as hoped, like Mitchell he can do more than just return a football.
The most common argument against Hester is that there are many who believe that if other highly talented players had focused on kick and punt returns, they would have been just as good, or even better.
Imagine how many TDs Barry Sanders, for example, could have scored as a return man if that was his primary assignment?
Another argument against Hester is the debate over how much impact he has in a game. After all, he only touches the ball so many times, while running backs, receiver and QBs, etc., contribute on a higher percentage of plays. Even offensive linemen play a much larger percentage of the game.
But Hester has nine TDs as a receiver, and even when he doesn't catch the ball on a punt or kick, the fact that he is standing out there causes good field position many times, as kickers and punters try to kick away from Hester.
Much of this argument depends on your projection of how the remainder of his career will go, truth be told.
Suffice it to say that Hester is a freak.
But is he a Hall of Fame freak?