Yesterday there was a comment on my Facebook page about the poor route running from Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester. It got me to thinking about the player, and how he's improved since being converted to wide out in 2007. Changing positions was the best thing to happen for Hester, as he clearly wasn't going to thrive at corner back. Some would argue that he hasn't thrived as a receiver either, and I'd say to them, so what. Just because the Bears paid him handsomely and changed him to receiver, and talked his skills up, that doesn't make him a number #1 WR. He's still able to impact a game from the receiver position.
Offensively Hester is a gimmick player. He may be the greatest return man of all time, so give the guy the ball a few times a game to see what happens. Hit him on a screen pass or two, run him on an end around, send him deep. He's electric with the ball in his hands, so why not try and hit him on a quick pass so he can go to work.
His hands are average at best. He's not very good at going up and getting the ball. His route running, while not exactly good, has seen improvement since '07. He's gotten better at using his body when the ball is thrown. We used to hear NFL analysts constantly talk about his poor technique, but not any more. Those early years of bashing his game has soured many Bears fans on him as a wide receiver, but he isn't the same player he was then. He's worked hard to improve, and he has improved. He'll never be a big time receiver, but if he can just continue being a threat when he's on the field that's enough for the offense.
The last two years Hester was 13th in the NFL in yards after catch. The YAC stat is an important one for a player like Hester, because his strength is supposed to be running in space. His YAC has improved every year since 2008, and that could mean he's gaining comfort with the position, then again it could just be a coincidence. I lean towards the former.
In the long history of the Chicago Bears, there haven't been many wide outs that stand out. But Hester's numbers do have him in the ballpark of some noteworthy Bears players. Did you know he averages more receptions per game than the 1985 Bears starting wide outs. His 2.6 RPG bests Willie Gault (2.4) and Dennis McKinnon (2.1). His 2.6 RPG is equal to Benrard Berrian and Wendel Davis. Sure handed Tom Waddle only averaged .3 more receptions per game than Hester, as did the all time receiving yardage leader for the Bears, Johnny Morris.
Hester's 194 receptions places him 19th all time in the franchise's history, and a mere 27 more catches will get him up to 13th all time. His 2,565 receiving yards is 21st all time and he's within shouting distance of 14th placed McKinnon's 2,840.
If Devin Hester keeps up his current part time receiver pace, he'll end his career in the top ten in both yards and receptions for the Bears. Even with his offensive plays cut into with the revamped receiving corps for 2012, he'll still have a few opportunities per game to work his magic.