Most people think they have the return game in the NFL figured out. Put a fast guy back there, let him bring the ball out and hope there are enough blocks to spring an opening for him. That is grossly oversimplified. Believe it or not, like any other position, there’s a science behind it that separates the good from the great. Devin Hester, for the first time since his retirement, revealed one of the key techniques he developed to become the best ever.
Hester had the critical element of speed, quickness, and vision that made him a nightmare to catch. Nevermind the fact he was deceptively strong, which made him that much harder to tackle. Yet his brilliance went even deeper than that. As he played the return man position more and more, he started to create subtle moves to help give him extra bits of space to make something happen.
During a recap with the NFL Network over his rookie season in 2006, he explained the one that worked the most. It involved when he first caught the ball on each of his punt returns. Rather than take off right away, he had a tendency to pause for a split second. He did this for two main reasons. First was to find out where the best lane would be. The second was forcing the coverage unit to slow down, allowing his blockers enough time to catch up.
Devin Hester used that technique time and time again
Go back and watch Hester during that year alone. He used that little trick multiple times including against Arizona, New York, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. He perfected it even more the next season when he broke his own record with six return touchdowns in 2007. The man was an absolute machine but it turns out his greatness wasn’t based on physical ability alone. There was an element of intelligence and instinct as well.
There is no debate that Hester is the greatest return man in NFL history. The question that fans have at this point is whether the voters in Canton will have the common sense to put him in the Hall of Fame. Nobody else comes close to what he accomplished. His records are almost certain to never be broken due to rule changes. There is no way to talk about the 2000s without mentioning his name. That is what a Hall of Famer is. Hester deserves it.