Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 29th best player in wide receiver Devin Hester.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 44.5/100
Last year’s rank: 35th
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 2 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3
Hester had an impressive first season with the Falcons a year ago, showcasing that his abilities as a return specialist had diminished minimally despite being age 32. Now a year older, Hester hopes that he continue to prove to be the league’s best all-around returner.
Hester finished fifth in the NFL a year ago with 1,908 all-purpose yards, with Miami’s Jarvis Landry (1,912) being the only player that eclipsed 1,400 yards while being his respective team’s primary kickoff and punt returner. And Landry unlike Hester, did not set a new all-time NFL record by returning his 20th non-offensive touchdown last season.
Hester is not quite as fearsome a returner as he was when he was in his early 20s, but he’s still a player that many teams opt to kick away from rather than risk the dynamic veteran to flip field position.
Not only did Hester add a dynamic element to the Falcons return game that had been sorely missing since the heyday of Allen Rossum almost a decade ago, but he also proved an occasional asset on offense.
Hester struggled through several years as the Chicago Bears tried to convert his dynamic return abilities into a weapon on offense. But Hester’s route-running and hands never quite meshed with his speed and explosiveness and eventually the Bears gave up on that project in 2013 after six seasons. However, the Falcons at times were able to capitalize and take advantage of Hester’s ability to outrun most defensive backs in 2014.
Last season Hester still struggled with drops and his route-running was suspect at times, but his 38 catches and 504 yards on offense was his best production there since 2009. Hester is likely to take on a smaller role on the Falcons offense in 2015 if players like Leonard Hankerson and Justin Hardy emerge, but he’ll still be counted upon to use his trademark speed to take the top off a defense as well as turn a simple screen into a 40-yard play on occasion. He’s simply too dynamic an asset to not get some designed plays this season.
The concern with Hester is longevity. He’ll turn 33 in November and is signed through 2016. The Falcons could potentially free up $3 million in cap space next offseason by releasing Hester. That’s something the team is only likely to do if there is a considerable drop in Hester’s performance as a returner this year. That doesn’t appear likely to happen based off last year, especially if Hester is allowed to focus more on special teams rather than being the team’s fourth receiver on offense.