Retired since 2017, some people might not remember just how explosive Hester was returning kicks. Originally drafted as a cornerback out of Miami by the Bears in the 2006 NFL Draft, Hester was in Chicago’s plans to be used as a kick returner right from the start. And boy were the Bears on to something.
In his rookie season, Hester lit the league on fire, returning 47 punts for 600 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 12.8 yards per return. Hester’s brilliance did not stop there, as he brought back 20 kickoffs for 528 yards and two touchdowns with an average of 26.4 yards per return. These numbers are simply on a level of their own. Not only is a stat line of 67 returns for 1,128 yards and five touchdowns ridiculous, Hester averaged first down yardage on each of his punt and kickoff returns. A whole first down gained every time Hester touched the football on punt returns. Two first downs every time Hester touched the football on kickoff returns. Astronomical.
After silencing the Seahawks and Saints in the playoffs, the Bears had a Super Bowl XLI date with Peyton Manning and the Colts in the city where Hester played collegiately: Miami.
Super Bowl XLI was truly a rhapsody in the rain, but the Bears would be singing in the rain early thanks to who else, their rookie returner.
While Hester never got a chance to follow up his act in the Super Bowl, the dynamic returner kept lighting up the stat sheet. Hester earned his second Pro Bowl nod in as many years in 2007 after compiling 1.585 return yards and six touchdowns between 85 punt and kickoff returns. Numbers like these are simply unimaginable.
As Hester’s career in the Windy City rolled along, so did his punt return game. Hester continued his other-worldly play by averaging 10.25 yards per punt return in his final six years in Chicago. Hester’s six-year average does not do his success justice. In 2010 and 2011, Hester ran it back five total times and averaged 17.1 and 16.2 yards per punt return respectively.
In the kickoff department, Hester averaged 25.9 yards per return in those final six seasons with the Bears. 25.9 yards. That is over one quarter of the football field gained in kickoff returns. Hester’s season high for average yardage came in 2010 with a mind-blowing 35.6 yards per kickoff return. Devin Hester was something extra special in 2010. Too bad the Bears fell short to the rival Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Although third-stringer Caleb Hanie did almost bring the Bears back after starter Jay Cutler went down injured and second-stringer Todd Collins was ineffective.
As the Bears’ success slowed down, Hester wanted to keep speeding along. Prior to the 2014 season, Hester signed with the Falcons. Only three games into his Falcons career, Hester made history again.
Not to be forgotten is the success Hester had in that 2014 season. Used primarily as a kickoff specialist, Hester was the deep man 45 times and accumulated 1,128 return yards as a 32-year old.
Sadly, 2014 was the final eye-popping year for Hester, as injuries began to ravage the returner. With his final two seasons split between Atlanta, Baltimore, and Seattle, Hester appeared in only 17 games.
Devin Hester finished his 11-year career as a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro with 3,695 punt return yards which is third all-time. Mixed in with those yards are 14 punt return touchdowns, an NFL record. For kickoff returns, Hester racked up 7,333 yards to put himself in 11th on the all-time list. Hester ran kickoffs back five times and his six total return touchdowns in 2007 is tied for the NFL single-season record.
Now 38 years old, Devin Hester will look for one more run, but not on the field. Eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, Hester is beyond deserving of votes that would run him straight into Canton. And in typical Devin Hester fashion, he will probably blow right by and take it to the Hall with ease.