Yesterday’s Chicago at Washington contest was on more or less as background noise in my house. I watched chunks here and there, but I was doing other things and not paying close attention until the third quarter. When I saw the game going to commercial with a highlight of Devin Hester running into the end zone, my initial thoughts went like this:
- Was that footage from a previous game?
- Why would they show footage from a previous game?
- Washington kicked to him. To Hester. With their coverage unit?
- Why would the hell would they kick to him?
Then I started wondering just how bad a decision it was to even kick the ball where Hester could catch it. The answer — really, really stupid:
See, Washington has the NFL’s worst punt coverage unit this season, and Hester is the best punt returner EVER. At the risk of being repetitive, Washington is last in net punting average, last in yards allowed per return, and tied for most punts returns for a touchdown allowed. They’re facing the best return man in history. And they kicked the ball to him.
Okay, I’m not sure I’ve made my point yet. Since 1920, 167 players have had at least 100 punt returns. Former Washington standout Brian Mitchell is the all-time leader with a whopping 463 punt returns. Number two is Eric Metcalf with 351. It’s not exaggeration to say Mitchell is the Cal Ripken of NFL punt returners.
Hester ranks 16th on the total returns list, but ranks 9th in total punt return yards. All-time, Hester is 4th in yards per punt return — the guys ahead of him played in the 1940s and 1960s (George McAfee, 1940-50 (also played in Chicago); Claude Gibson, 1961-65; and Bill Dudley, 1942-53).
But where Hester separates himself from the rest is in what he did to Washington yesterday — scoring. Hester is the all-time leader in punts returned for a TD with 13. Metcalf is second with 10, but that 3-score difference creates an illusion of closeness. Metcalf had 351 career returns — Hester has 255.
Just for the heck of it, I calculated the TD% for NFL players with at least 100 punts returned. Here’s the top 20:
See Hester up there at the top? Roughly 5% of the time he returns a punt, he scores. He’s the best ever at it — and the contest isn’t even close. Indeed, if Hester fails to score on his next 68 punt returns, he’d STILL be the all-time leader in punt return TD%.
Yet, the geniuses running the Washington football team kicked to him. Three times. And, of course, Hester returned one for a touchdown. This is a thing that happened.