The reports of Devin Hester’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, to quote a famous gentleman. Many pundits, myself included, thought that the return specialist was washed up, for lack of a nicer phrase. Surely Chicago had thought the same thing or they would have never allowed him to leave town. But just a few weeks into the regular season, Hester is proving that he is not done by a damn sight. He has been nothing short of spectacular for the Atlanta Falcons in their two wins this year.
The Falcons had hoped that he could help out their return game to give their high powered offense a little better field position than they have been accustomed to until now. But the added bonus has been his receiving contributions of an already stacked set of wideouts including Roddy White, Julio Jones, andHarry Douglas. During the preseason when Hester was catching a few balls, I figured the team was just stroking his ego a bit to make him feel welcome. I thought he would see little offensive action once the real games began. After all he never showed much as a receiver in Chicago when they gave him the chance to shine on offense. He was just never very effective in that role and seemed out of place honestly. With the Falcons this season, Hester has been a legitimate threat as a wide receiver. Going forward each week, teams now have to prepare for four Falcons receivers capable of big plays.
After three weeks of play, Devin Hester at age 31 is in the top group of returners in the NFL. He has one punt return for a touchdown and is averaging 15.6 yards on punt returns. He is averaging 28 yards per kick return. His receiving contributions have led to 18 yards per catch. He even tossed in a 20 yard scoring run to make sure he got in on every facet of the offensive game. He is not Roddy White or Julio Jones. These guys are All-Pro receivers who can get 10 catches a game. Hester is just an explosive option to throw in to make life miserable for defensive coordinators. He isn’t going to be as consistent with catches as normal wide outs, but that is fine. He can score from anywhere on the field so he only needs a few catches per game to go along with his returns. The more touches the better, no matter if they come on special teams or on offense.
This past Thursday night game between the Falcons and the Bucs was a blowout and not fun to watch if you are not a Falcons’ fan. But if you did stick around for most of the contest, you got to see history. Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. This one was extra special as it put him ahead of Deion Sanders for all time returns for touchdowns. Hester now stands alone with 20 scores off of returns. He highlighted this record breaking TD with a Prime Time high stepping conclusion into the endzone. I am sure Deion didn’t want his record broken, but he had to like the style with which his long standing achievement fell. The fact that it happened in the Georgia Dome made it even more special. Sanders pranced through many a defender in that same building, electrifying the crowd. Hester did the same thing with just as much flash as his mentor back in the day. Falcons’ fans can only hope he continues to shine each week. He has certainly made a believer out of me so far. If Atlanta is to get back in the playoffs, Hester will need to keep providing the spark.