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The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its list of 15 finalists Thursday, and one controversial choice is still on it. Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester remains in the running for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Hester's case for enshrinement is simple. He's regarded as the best punt returner of all time. Hester holds the record for most punt-return touchdowns with 14, is tied for ninth all time with five kick-return touchdowns and famously scored on the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI.
Hester undoubtedly changed how teams approached punts and kicks when he was the team's returner. His ability to break games open and provide instant offense for Bears teams with questionable quarterbacking proved to be the difference in some crucial games.
Hester also saw time as a cornerback and wide receiver with Chicago. His finest season as a wideout came in 2009, when he hauled in 57 passes for 757 yards and three touchdowns.
Devin Hester excelled as return man
The case against Hester boils down to his position. As a kick and punt returner, Hester played only a few snaps a game. He made the most of them as a returner, but failed to make a major impact as a wide receiver or cornerback. Hester was elite only when it came to kick and punt returns, which is an important, but small, part of every game.
Four kickers are in the Hall of Fame, so there's precedent for players who excelled on special teams to get inducted. Hester was also responsible for the kick return that resulted in the Bears beating the Arizona Cardinals in "The Bears are who we thought they were" game.
(Warning: NSFW language in the video below.)
That's got to be worth something, right?
Will Devin Hester get into the Hall of Fame?
Though he's a finalist, Hester still needs to make it through two more rounds before he reaches the voting phase. The Pro Football Hall of Fame holds numerous discussions as it narrows down its list to five people, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website.
"The Hall of Fame’s Selection Process includes multiple steps in which the nominees are scrutinized. The Hall facilitates the procedure of three successive reviews of increasing scrutiny with the 49-person Selection Committee. The first is a vote to reduce the long list of Modern-Era Nominees (typically around 100) to 25 Semifinalists, followed by a later vote to reduce to 15 Finalists. At the annual meeting on “Selection Saturday" (or a date prior to the Super Bowl), the Finalists are scrutinized even further by the Selectors, who after a thorough discussion of each Finalist, reduce the list from 15 to 10 and then 10 to 5. At that point, the five remaining Finalists are voted on for election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a yes-or-no basis. A minimum positive vote of 80% is necessary for election."
Hester faces extremely tough competition if he wants to make that final list. Other big names still in the running include: Jared Allen, Ronde Barber, Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Reggie Wayne and Patrick Willis, among others.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) December 30, 2021
All of those players dominated during the same era as Hester and played less specialized positions. The best comparisons for Hester are Holt, Johnson and Wayne. They all who have stronger cases for induction. The three all sit in the top-16 on the all-time receiving yards list and scored far more often than Hester.
Hester getting to the top-15 in his first year of eligibility is a great accomplishment. It's also an indicator that he'll continue to get strong support for induction if he falls short in 2022.