The Pro Football Hall of Fame is full of the best of the best at every position except punter. And there's only one pure placekicker in the Hall in Jan Stenerud, class of '91. And I guess technically there isn't a long snapper or a kick returner in the Hall either. The 3rd phase simply dosen't get league wide respect. Many don't even consider the punters and kickers real football players. I do. I think every position that you can measure up against others at that same position should be included in the Hall Of Fame. And I think Devin Hester could be a Hall of Fame player.
Yes, I only said could, not should or would. I think he still has some work to do before he truly belongs, and I think some voters won't even put him on their ballots.
Here's what Hester said about his Hall chances on the NFL Network (via SI):
"I don't know what it's going to take for a returner to get voted in the Hall of Fame, but I'm going to make sure that it'll be a hard decision to pass me up. There's a first for everything: I want to be the first."
Right now he stands only 1 return touchdown behind the record 19 that Deion Sanders has. When he eclipses that mark, and becomes officially the greatest return man ever what then? I don't think holding that record would be enough to get him into the Hall. Some would argue to his inclusion, but I always look at longevity in determining greatness. With any player in any sport I always ask; Was he one of the best at his position for a decade? If a player sustains greatness for around 10 years, how can you say he dosen't belong? So if Hester can keep being an elite return specialist for another 4 or 5 years then he should get the call.
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports disagrees:
We've had a lot of great return men in our time, guys like Brian Mitchell of the Redskins and Eagles. Did anybody ever consider him a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
But when you consider special teams to be 1/12th or so of the game, how can a player who returns kicks and punts be in the Hall.
Let's call Hester what he is, a special return man who can change a game. Not Hall worthy.
Mitchell was a very good returner through his 14 year career, but he never had more than 2 TD returns in the same season. He made one Pro Bowl team, in 1995, but was he ever really considered the best during his time? Hester has been named to three Pro Bowls as the return specialist, and he could be on his way to a 4th this year. The two years he seemed human and was shut out in the TD return categories, he still had an impact on the game. There was a whole lot of shanking going on as teams tried to avoid him as much as possible.
And I'd be interested in hearing where Prisco gets that 1/12th figure. So much of what coaches do is predicated on field position, and Hester flips field position. Even when he isn't fielding punts, he affects the game. Punters try to directionally kick to him, some coaches instruct their punters and kickers to simply kick the ball out of bounds rather to face the ridiculous talents of Hester.
Special teams may not be on equal footing with offense or defense, but you can't deny the importance of a great kicker, a great punter, a great long snapper, or a great returner.