The implications of Devin Hester’s Hall of Fame induction

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Highlights Devin Hester’s Hall of Fame induction sets a new precedent for special teamers, highlighting their unique contributions.
Hester’s impact went beyond touchdowns, with teams often avoiding kicking to him to prevent him from changing the game’s momentum.
Hester’s induction may pave the way for more specialists to enter the Hall of Fame, such as Justin Tucker, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Matthew Slater.
Chicago Bears legend Devin Hester is officially a Hall of Famer.
It was announced at the NFL Honors 2024 show that Hester, along with Dwight Freeney, Andre Johnson, Julius Peppers, Patrick Willis, Randy Gradishar, and Steve McMichael, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
While every selection holds significance, Hester’s eventual enshrinement will be especially noteworthy, given the uniqueness of his candidacy. As the latest specialist to get into Canton, Hester sets a new precedent for special teamers in the Hall of Fame.
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A return man of a generation
Hester’s Hall of Fame induction is well deserved
© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Hester retired from the NFL as arguably the greatest kick returner of all time. He made four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams and holds the all-time record for most touchdown returns in NFL history with 20, 14 of which came on punts.
Most Punt Return TDs in NFL history Player Punt Return TDs Devin Hester 14 Eric Metcalf 10 Brian Mitchell 9 Jack Christiansen 8 Desmond Howard 8
Hester’s impact on the games goes well beyond touchdowns and yardage, or any return statistic for that matter. When he wasn’t returning kicks, it wasn’t by choice. Teams were so wary of Hester’s potential to change games that they would avoid kicking to him altogether, often sacrificing yardage to do so.
Bears Avg Starting Position During Hester’s Prime Year Avg Drive Starting Position NFL Rank 2006 Own 32.6 3rd 2007 Own 34.5 1st 2008 Own 33.4 1st 2009 Own 32.4 2nd 2010 Own 33.7 1st
As a result, the Bears had some of the best average starting field positions in football throughout Hester’s peak. This is why simply looking at box score stats and career accomplishments nearly 20 years removed from the start of Hester’s career doesn’t fully convey his impact.
Hester was one of the last of a dying breed. With all the rule changes aimed at protecting players and limiting returns, an elite return man just doesn’t have the same value today as it once did. For his time, though, Hester was a breathtaking talent who changed the game in more ways than one.
The future of specialists in the HOF
Hester’s induction paves the way for future specialists
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Hester’s induction may open the floodgates for more specialists to make it to Canton alongside the other greats in the NFL in the coming years. There’s nothing in writing that prohibits or limits special teamers from getting in, but looking at the short list of such players, it’s hard to pretend that all positions are created equally in the eyes of voters.
However, Hester getting in shows that voters aren’t entirely opposed to honoring specialists; they’re just far more selective. Believed by many to be the greatest at his position to ever grace the gridiron, it still took Hester three years on the ballot to get in. This would be unthinkable for a more traditional position, such as quarterback or defensive end.
This further proves that specialist nominees need to go above and beyond to even be considered. Those who are merely very good don’t stand a chance. Instead, it’s about being a historical outlier in a league of their own.
By rule, this greatly limits the selection pool, as generational talents can only be true to their label if they appear once in a generation. Still, Hester’s induction is a major win for specialists, as it gives everyone a path to Canton, even if some involve greater resistance than others.
Who’s next?
The next specialist to get in may still be playing
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Special teamers getting into the Hall of Fame will never be the norm, nor should it be. As an occasional occurrence, though, it would be warranted. Canton is intended to honor the greatest players to ever play the sport, and its history. This isn’t possible if one of the game’s three phases goes entirely unrecognized.
Should the NFL continue its approach of making exceptions for certain specialists, there is reason think several more will be headed to the Hall of Fame down the road.
Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker may not even need three years on the ballot like Hester did. Tucker, too, is considered by many to be the greatest at his position and has put together quite the resume over the years.
Tucker All-Time NFL Ranks Category Tucker NFL Rank FG % 90.2 1st FG Made 395 15th FG Made 50+ 58 T-2nd Points 1,649 22nd Longest FG 66 1st
From seven Pro Bowls, to eight All-Pros, to the highest field goal percentage in league history, to the longest field goal in NFL history, Tucker’s claim is a strong one. And he’s still only 34 years old, which is like a toddler in kicker years.
Cordarrelle Patterson of the Atlanta Falcons, a seven-time All-Pro in the return game, will likely benefit the most from Hester getting into the Hall of Fame. He has the most kickoff returns for touchdowns in league history, and even though he doesn’t return punts, it can be argued he makes up for that with his value as a gadget player.
Patterson All-Time NFL Ranks Category Patterson Rank Kick Return Yards 7,989 9th Kick Return Avg 29.3 1st Kick Return TD 9 1st Longest Kick Return TD 109 1st
Hester was the greatest punt returner, and Patterson is possibly the greatest kick returner. One getting in makes the other joining him a possibility.
Finally, New England’s Matthew Slater has been a core special teamer for years. Of course, a gunner isn’t going to be as celebrated or noticeable as a kicker or returner, but Slater has been an integral part of the Patriots’ special teams unit for years.
10 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pros for a member of the kick coverage team is an incredible feat. It may be an outside shot, but Slater’s respect across the league will at least give him consideration.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless stated otherwise.

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