The greatest return man in NFL history is a step away from Canton.
And this time, it’s not a surprise.
In his second year of eligibility, Devin Hester is back in the Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist stage, announced tonight on NFL Network. Hester made history last year when he became the second special teamer ever to be a first-ballot finalist, and the first pure returner to ever make the finalist stage at all.
The only pure special teamers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are placekicker Jan Stenerud (first-ballot 1991) and punter Ray Guy (seniors, 2014).
The next step for Hester is the final vote from 15 modern-era finalists to the class of 2023, which will 99.9999% have five modern-era members. Per voter Gary Myers, the final meeting will be January 17 over Zoom.
The entire class of 2023 — including three seniors and coach/contributor candidate Don Coryell (all also 99.9999% likely to be inducted) — will be announced Feb. 9 on the NFL Honors show.
Since the start of the semifinalist stage in 2004, every first-ballot semifinalist has reached Canton within 11 years, while every first-ballot finalist, like Hester, has reached in six years. That’s why last year I wrote this column noting that Hester was a lock by 2027.
But that was last year at the finalist stage. And when the 49 voters do their vote from 15 down to the class of five, they also have a round of 10. In his first year of eligibility, Hester wasn’t just a finalist — he was in the final 10, meaning he was in the first group of five finalists who did not make the Hall.
As a reminder, the 2022 modern-era Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists:
- Class of 2022: Tony Boselli, LeRoy Butler, Sam Mills, Richard Seymour, Bryant Young
- Finalists 6 thru 10: Ronde Barber, Devin Hester, Andre Johnson, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware
- Finalists 11 thru 15: Jared Allen, Willie Anderson, Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne, Patrick Willis
Because of that, while Hester is still mathematically a lock by 2027, I think he’s going in by 2025 at the latest, perhaps next year, and with an outside shot at this year (see tweets below).
Hester’s big advantage compared to the other finalists: he’s not battling anyone in his position group or team. Whether he’s in this year, next, 2025, 2026 or 2027, he’s going in soon. Here’s how he MIGHT get in this year, as I discussed Jan. 6 on NBC Sports Chicago with Alex Shapiro:
I don’t think Devin Hester gets into the @ProFootballHOF this year — but I do think he’s only 1 of 7 of the finalists with a real shot. I explained why last night with @AlexShapiroNBCS.@WCGridiron @notinhalloffame @Profhofcantonf @clarkjudgeTOF https://t.co/SEzNG3s7pD pic.twitter.com/gxxCoCbaNK— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) January 7, 2023
As for how the vote might go, in our Pro Football Hall of Fame committee, I gave the presentation for Hester last year. In reality, the man with that job is Dan Pompei. Here is my presentation last year for Hester. We’ll see what happens!
Everyone in the @notinhalloffame committee presented 1-2 of our 19 PH HOF finalists. I channeled @danpompei and presented Devin Hester. We elected him first ballot! Here is the start of my presentation. Close your eyes... #BearTFDown @WCGridiron @VinLospinuso91 pic.twitter.com/9Rqto3vdTu— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) February 3, 2022
Here is the ending of my Devin Hester Pro Football Hall of Fame presentation, with help from:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) February 4, 2022
* Mel Gray
* Dante Hall
* Desmond Howard
* Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
* Brian Mitchell
* Deion Sanders
* Gale Sayers
The class of 2022 is announced Feb. 10. We shall see! #BearTFDown pic.twitter.com/Nc4vFQJTjj
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.
Silverstein is also a member of the Not in the Hall of Fame Pro Football Hall of Fame committee. Their class of 2023 finalist vote is here:
We then discussed every remaining player (36 total) and did our finalists vote.— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) December 21, 2022
(We ended up with a tie and voted to remove Ronde Barber.)
This list is not necessarily how our class vote will be. I think it represents our urgency around getting each player to the finals. pic.twitter.com/OAOk0sahiN