So after a disappointing season in which the Bears lost 9 games and Cutler didn't meet expectations in Chicago, regardless of fault (see: Ron Turner), a lot of Bears fans seem to want to dismiss Devin Hester as a receiver in Chicago. To me, this seems a bit rash, and a lot confusing.
The Bears, agree with the initial decision or not, decided to try and get the ball into Devin Hester's hands more by turning the "ridiculous" kick returner into a wide receiver. Many thought this was a great idea at the time. After all, Devin was the most electrifying player in the league. He started out slow and caught 20 balls in 2007, and maintained his return excellence. But as he became a bigger part of the offense in '08, his return ability seemed to diminish. Decreased time with the special teams unit in practice, as well as a league that was well aware of his style and threat, and an increased focus on his WR duties lead to a huge drop off in his return production. The trend continued into 2009, and fans really raised their voices to question the decision.
But missed in all of this is Devin's development as a receiver. Prior to his injury, Devin was on track to be the first 1000 yd receiver in Chicago since Marty Booker in 2002. But knowing that, fans seem to point to his skill set and diminish his achievements by pointing to other players on the team. I've heard how Devin can't get open, how he drops balls, and how he can't run routes. So I decided to do a comparative analysis with the rest of the teams receivers, and added in a few of the leagues better receivers as a comparison. I know some of you will say that stats don't tell the whole story, but I would respond with the idea that stats tell a truer story more consistently than anecdotal reviews. So here it is.
Devin Hester: 13 Games - 91 Targets - 57 Recs - 2 Drops - 757 Yards - 3 TDs - 268 YAC
- Earl Bennett: 16 Games - 88 Targets - 54 Recs - 5 Drops - 717 Yards - 2 TDs - 323 YAC
- Johnny Knox: 15 Games - 80 Targets - 45 Recs - 3 Drops - 527 Yards - 5 TDs - 155 YAC
- D Aromashodu: 10 Games - 43 Targets - 24 Recs - 2 Drops - 298 Yards - 4 TDs - 70 YAC
- Rashied Davis: 16 Games - 8 Targets - 5 Recs - 1 Drop - 35 Yards - 0 TDs - 6 YAC
- DeSean Jackson: 15 Games - 118 Targets - 63 Recs - 5 Drops - 1167 Yards - 9 TD - 273 YAC
- Marques Colston: 16 Games - 106 Targets - 70 Recs - 8 Drops - 1074 Yards - 9 TDs - 372 YAC
- Blaylon Edwards: 16 Games - 94 Targets - 45 Recs - 4 Drops - 680 Yards - 4 TDs - 188 YAC
- Miles Austin: 16 Games - 124 Targets - 81 Recs - 5 Drops - 1320 Yards - 11 TDs - 555 YAC
- Sidney Rice: 16 Games - 121 Targets - 83 Recs - 4 Drops - 1312 Yards - 8 TDs - 333 YAC
- Pierre Garcon: 15 Games - 92 Targets - 47 Recs - 5 Drops - 765 Yards - 4 TDs - 295 YAC
- M Sims-Walker: 15 Games - 111 Targets - 63 Recs - 1 Drop - 869 Yards - 7 TDs - 256 YAC
I tried not to cherry pick receivers and just came up with a list of 7 that were young and talented to have a good bar to measure Hester by. Now, base stats tell a story, but rarely an in-depth story. So I'll Break these down into some more interesting sub-stats and rank the players accordingly. I'll exclude Davis because his sample set is to small.
Drop %: Sims-Walker (0.9%), Hester (2.1%), Rice (3.3%), Knox (3.8%), Austin (4.0%), Jackson (4.2%), Edwards (4.3%), Aromashodu (4.7%), Garcon (5.4%), Bennett (5.6%), Colston (7.5%).
% of Targets caught: Rice (68.6%), Colston (66.0%), Austin (65.3%), Hester (62.6%), Bennett (61.4%), Sims-Walker (56.8%), Knox (56.3%), Aromashodu (55.8%), Jackson (53.4%), Garcon (51.1%), Edwards (47.9%)
YAC Average: Austin (6.9), Garcon (6.3), Bennett (6.0), Colston (5.3), Hester (4.7), Jackson (4.3), Edwards (4.1), Rice and Sims-Walker (4.0), Knox (3.4), Aromashodu (2.9)
Yards/Game: Austin (82.5), Rice (82.0), Jackson (77.8), Colston (67.1), Hester (58.2), Sims-Walker (57.9), Garcon (52.5), Bennett (44.7), Edwards (42.5), Knox (35.1), Aromashodu (29.8)
Receptions/Game: Rice (5.2), Austin (5.0), Hester and Colston (4.4), Jackson and Sims-Walker (4.2), Bennett (3.4), Garcon (3.1), Knox (3.0), Edwards (2.8), Aromashodu (2.4)
1st Down %: Colston (50.9%), Rice (48.8%), Austin (47.6%), Edwards (39.4%), Sims-Walker (38.7%), Hester (37.4%), Aromashodu (37.2%), Bennett (36.4%), Garcon (35.9%), Jackson (34.7%), Knox (27.5%)
Additionally, Hester leads all Bears in catches over 25 yards with 7, placing him 19th in the NFC. I could only find top 20 stats for that, so I cannot provide the those stats for half on this list.
Some interesting things this list shows, relating to peoples complaints about Hester are that:
- Hester has much better hands than he is given credit for. His drop percentage is the second best on this list.
- Hester is getting open. His targets were a team best. and he caught a higher percentage of htose targets than most of the receivers on this list. From Chicago, only Matt Forte caught a higher percentage of his targets, and Forte was 1st in the NFC and 3rd in the league in that stat.
- Hester appeared no further down than half way down on any of the sub-stats and only saw one sub-stat that any Bear receiver surpassed him: YAC average (Bennett)
- Hester's production numbers rival most on this list. His numbers most closely resemble Colston, if adjusted for 16 games, with the exception of drops and TDs
My point in all of this is that the Bears just spent 3 years to turn a electrifying KR into a WR. After the process finally appears to be bearing fruit, now some want to see Hester returned to KR duties. I fail to see the logic. As shown above in base and sub-stat terms, Hester is producing on par with most of these WRs, none of whom I suspect would be turned down by the fan base, if acquired. And he has outproduced all other Bear receivers in almost all categories, even when broken down to per-game and per-catch divisions.
I'm not saying, by any means, that Hester is yet an elite receiver. But he is a viable weapon as a wide-out and switching his positions again can only hurt his production even more. Hester can be a 1000 yards receiver, and the Bears have been without one of those for 7 straight seasons. Throwing away that potential for the hope that Hester returns to form as an elite kick returner would be as big a waste as it was to throw away the leagues best returner for a mediocre WR. Maybe even bigger.
I've had my say. What do you think?
Edit: Hat tip to DaHamsta for catching the mistake with DeSean Jackson's TD numbers. Much Appreciated!