On the topic of Devin Hester to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I’ve preached patience.
On this year’s ballot, for the class of 2024, there are not five more deserving candidates for Canton than #23. Last week I broke down his case based on how he punished opponents when he didn’t have the ball and next week I’ll look at what is purely a stats/facts case.
Today I want to tell you about an exercise I led recently with 10 other PFHOF analysts that yielded great results for our man Devin.
Due to my frustration around many Hall-worthy players running out of modern-era eligibility without even getting to the semis much less in the room, I asked Hall analysts, historians and analysts to give me their next five modern-era PFHOF classes (2024-2028) without consideration for the current queue. We did this via email and with minimal discussion and debating.
The goal was to remind the actual 50 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame that they are letting a number of all-time great players slip to the senior pool without ever debating their cases in the room, which only happens at the finalist stage. Among the players who have never gotten into the semis, much less the finals and a formal meeting:
- Richmond Webb — the only remaining tackle from the 1990s All-Decade team
- Randall Cunningham — the only eligible player in NFL history to win major MVP awards in two seasons without getting to Canton
- Ben Coates — the second or third best tight end of the 1990s and an all-decade player
- Carnell Lake — All Pro at both cornerback and safety
- Tim McDonald — a 6x All Pro (5x second team) and a Super Bowl champion
We published the results on PFHOF voter Clark Judge’s website, and while I’ll let you mosey over there for the five classes, I’ll note that we elected Devin Hester in our class of 2027.
If that sounds far off, or like a snub, it’s not. It’s the opposite.
First of all, I’ll note that our group is notably pro-Hester. Two years ago we elected him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, joining actual class of 2022 members Tony Boselli, LeRoy Butler and Richard Seymour as well as Patrick Willis.
Second, and specific to this exercise, while electing Hester four classes from now might seem like a long wait, we kicked the can on a number of actual 2023 finalists and semifinalists, moving the following players to 2029 or beyond:
- 2023 finalists: Jared Allen, Willie Anderson, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne
- 2023 semifinalists: Anquan Boldin, Jahri Evans, London Fletcher, James Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Robert Mathis, Steve Smith, Fred Taylor, Hines Ward, Vince Wilfork
All 14 of those guys have eligibility in 2029 and beyond so we didn’t actually send anyone new into the senior pool. We also ignored a number of quarterbacks who are becoming eligible in our timeframe and who the actual voters might well push fast, whether straight to the Hall or at least to the semis, including Eli Manning (eligible in 2025), Philip Rivers (2026), Ben Roethlisberger (2027) and Matt Ryan (2028).
All told, we collectively voted for 61 players, electing 25, so Devin Hester being one of the 25, especially considering he’s only now in his third year of eligibility, is a big deal.
As for the odds of this influencing the actual voters, we can only guess. But Clark Judge is a voter himself and it’s published on his site. He co-hosts his excellent “Eye Test For Two” podcast with fellow voter Ira Kaufman. Their guests include other Hall voters, and Clark tags a lot of voters and other NFL beat reporters in his tweets promoting articles.
I’m going full-court press to get Devin Hester into Canton as soon as possible. And unless the 50 voters decide to elect Tim McDonald and Leslie O’Neal to the class of 2024 like we did, the time is now to give the GOAT returner his gold jacket and his rightful place among the bronze busts.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, a Pro Football Hall of Fame analyst with the Not In the Hall of Fame Committee, a contributor to PFHOF voter Clark Judge’s regular “Judge & Jury” series 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.
A look at what’s next for potential Chicago Bears Hall of Famers: