Will Devin Hester Make the 2023 Hall of Fame Class?

Chicago Bears KR Devin Hester
Chicago Bears KR Devin Hester
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Conference Championship - Stop me if you have heard this before, but Chicago Bears all-time great kick returner Devin Hester will probably be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2023.

"Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis, and Devin Hester are pretty much locks," said one Hall of Fame selector; let's call them Voter A. "Then again, I would have told you Hester was a lock last year, so what do I know?"

"The guy who is most intriguing in terms of 'when is it going to happen?' or 'will it happen?' is Devin Hester," according to Voter B.

Voter C acknowledges that Hester has gotten a lot of support from former opponents and coaches. But still: "I am torn on Hester. I know that by body of work, he's the best return guy of all time. If we left Deion Sanders or Steve Smith as returners for their whole careers, they would have been as good or better. But they were starters, and Hester was never good enough to be a starter. So I'm supposed to reward a guy for not being good enough to play a more important role?"

Voter D is not torn at all. "Hester is one of those guys who virtually everyone you talk to says: 'He should be a Hall of Famer.' … He's a two-time all decade player and he was given a spot on the NFL's 100-year anniversary team. If that doesn't say Hall of Fame, I'm not sure what does."

Hester made the cutdown from 15 to 10 finalists during last year's selection meeting, and the selectors I spoke to thought he would make the final five. It did not happen.

"He had two things that worked against him last year—he is a unique candidate as a return man, and he was a first-time eligible candidate," Voter D explained. "He's not first-time eligible anymore."

As Voter C's comments indicate, there's still skepticism among the selection committee. I remain a serious skeptic about Hester's worthiness, for what that's worth (nothing). But there do not appear to be any anti-Hester hardliners. And a player who reaches the 15-to-10 preliminary cut-down vote as a finalist in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility is inevitably getting in. It's only a matter of time.

So if not this year, then next. But probably this year.

Joe Thomas and Darrelle Revis: the Locks

The Hall of Fame selection committee virtually "met" and voted on January 17. So the 2023 class has already been selected, but voters are sworn to secrecy until inductees can be informed in person and the class is announced on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

My conversations with selectors took place BEFORE the meeting and vote, so no one violated any bylaws. That said, identities are kept anonymous, especially because Voter A might tell me what Coach X said about Candidate Y, and Coach X might get mad at Voter A, who in turn would get mad at me, if his off-the-record feelings about Candidate Y suddenly appeared at Football Outsiders.

Joe Thomas and Darrelle Revis appear to be consensus locks for this year's class, which should not be surprising. What skepticism exists for Revis appears to take the form of I think he's great but I am not sure the other selectors agree, which generally means everyone was just waiting for a reassuring presentation.

After Thomas and Revis, things get messy.

There are no "gotta do it now" candidates who have been waiting in finalist purgatory for seven-PLUS years, which has been the case in the past. Torry Holt, Zach Thomas, and Reggie Wayne are on their fourth finalist ballots: an above-average amount of time in the waiting room, but not an uncommon amount. There are, however, logjams at two positions, and no selector is sure how they will be resolved.

Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne

"The receivers? That's just a f*cking headache and a half. If we don't move these guys along we are going to end up with five receivers in the final 15."
—Voter C.

Voters seem to broadly feel the way many readers and fans probably feel: Andre Johnson was better than Wayne and Holt, but not by such a margin that shunting him ahead of two longtime finalists would be appropriate.

"Just watching Andre Johnson play: the skill, the speed, his dominance with very average quarterbacks. For about a 10-year period he was without question the most important player on the Texans."
—Voter A.

Johnson was indeed the prototype. But should Holt and Wayne be penalized for producing similar numbers despite being less imposing? "Don't the smaller guys have to work harder to have their success?" Voter B asked, rhetorically.

Holt and Wayne played for better franchises and quarterbacks, but they also have greater postseason accomplishments as a result. Do they really deserve to be leapfrogged after slowly (particularly in Holt's case, working his way up to nominee to semifinalist to finalist across nearly a decade) working their way up the ballot?

"This is going to be a difficult knot to untie," said Voter D. "It would probably take some kind of agreement by the majority—'Hey, let's get this guy in and we'll worry about the others in the next two years.'"

Such agreements are generally unspoken. Presenters or those advocating a favorite candidate are sure to remind the committee that their guy is in his 10th year of eligibility or a fourth-time finalist or such, but congressional vote-trading—help me get Holt in this year and I promise to vote Wayne next year– is rare to nonexistent. Which is a shame, because it would solve a lot of problems.

As Voter C noted earlier, the receiver logjam will only get worse if not sorted out soon. Larry Fitzgerald arrives in a few years, and he will leapfrog over any clogs. But the semifinalist pool is currently full of players who have support of committee members.

"Steve Smith is so pissed right now."
—Voter C.

"I'd vote for Hines Ward before I would ever vote for Torry Holt or Reggie Wayne. It's not that I don't think they belong. I just think other guys like Ward belong more than they do."
—Voter A.

Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, and DeMarcus Ware

"Here we are creating another pass-rushing logjam."
—Voter C.

Jared Allen is a third-time finalist. Ware is on his second ballot. Freeney his first. Unfortunately, one voter believes that Freeney has the most support among former players and coaches, followed by Ware and then Allen. And committee members appear to prefer Ware. Confused yet?

Voter C paraphrased for me an endorsement Freeney received from a former standout offensive tackle. "Freeney's like a starting pitcher with three pitches. He had a really good speed-to-power combo, plus the spin. But the power came from a 5-foot-11 man with the lower body of a 300-pound man. So when he hit you with power, it was not 'little guy' power or leverage power. Trying to get under him was an impossible equation. And the inside spin was a wrecker."

"Ware is the best one. And I think both of those other guys are deserving. The numbers may scream Jared Allen, but you have to make hard choices."
—Voter A.

"You can make a case that maybe DeMarcus Ware or Dwight Freeney were a notch above Jared Allen. But Jared Allen was damn good. So does Allen get the nod if one of those guys gets in, because he's been waiting the longest?"
—Voter B.

"They are all going to get in, it's just a matter of when and in what order. Allen was in line first, so to me he should go in first because the three of them are so difficult to separate."
—Voter D.

It's worth noting that Ware made the cut from 15 to 10 in last year's vote, but Allen did not. In a three-way vote, it's possible that Freeney could take support away from Ware, causing a triple knockout. Just in time for Julius Peppers to arrive next year to make the edge rusher logjam as knotted as the one at wide receiver. And so it goes.

Zach Thomas and Patrick Willis

There appears to be a little lingering resentment among selectors about the results of the 2022 vote: the late Sam Mills, in his final years of eligibility, slipped past Zach Thomas. Without quoting anyone even anonymously, some voters regarded the Mills selection as a pity vote, or at least some voters think other voters regarded it that way.

I was pro-Mills—his contributions to the USFL and NFL made his case unique—but also saw no reason why they could not have both gotten in last year; Bryant Young and his fervent supporters among former opponents and coaches could have waited.

Anyway, it feels like I have been writing about Thomas for 20 years. He has ringing endorsements from some extremely high-profile opponents, some stray detractors among old-school blood-'n'-guts coaches, and general support from the committee.

"He's a deserving guy. He has the pelts on the wall."
—Voter A.

Patrick Willis, on his second finalist ballot, is the only other linebacker among the final 15.

"Willis is what a middle linebacker is supposed to look like. He's supposed to be ferocious and say things like 'Flap those chicken wings!' Zach Thomas was not that guy. But Thomas played 15 years at an incredibly high level, and he may have been the smartest defensive player in the history of the league. So Willis just doesn't work in this group."
—Voter C.

All in all, it sounds like selectors are weary of debating Thomas, which is likely to push him into Canton.

Willie Anderson, Darren Woodson, and the rest

"I think Willie [Anderson] is one of those guys who is making slow, steady progress."
—Voter D.

"I think Anderson has a very good case," said Voter A, noting that some influential offensive line coaches and a few former opponents endorse Anderson. "He's more respected by his peers than by the media."

Selectors appear to agree that Anderson is gaining traction on the committee, but Thomas will upstage him this year unless a Bryant Young-level groundswell of endorsements arrive. Anderson will probably have to wait until there are no other offensive linemen on the ballot, or until he reaches the Zach Thomas stage where the committee just feels compelled to stop arguing his case.

Darren Woodson is in his 15th year of eligibility and was a semifinalist seven times. This is his first year as a finalist. Years of Hall of Fame monitoring have taught me, and voters agreed with my theory, that "older" candidates who reach the finalist stage with four or five years to spare generally get enshrined, while those who pop onto the ballot in their 19th or 20th years (Everson Walls a few years ago, for example) get remanded to the seniors committee.

Woodson has lots of player/coach support, but he will face some skepticism from voters who have inducted every safety who wasn't nailed down over the last decade.

"I'm not saying he doesn't belong," said Voter A. "But we have made SUCH a correction at the safety position, after not selecting a safety for so many years. We've really addressed that position. If Woodson screamed selection over someone else, I would listen."

Albert Lewis is in his final year of eligibility. Per my theory, the selectors will pass him on to the seniors, albeit with more momentum than he had before finally becoming a finalist.

"You can argue Lewis is a top three punt-/kick-blocker of all time. He also was a vastly underrated cover corner. I will be shocked if I don't at least vote him 15-to-10. Unfortunately, he got people behind his case late."
—Voter A.

As for Ronde Barber, his name never comes up unbidden when I speak to voters. But of course I only speak to a small percentage of the voters.

Final Pro Football Hall of Fame Thoughts

One selector pointed out that no one on the committee knows how many votes each candidate received on the semifinalist ballot. It's possible that the 15th of the finalists only received, say, eight votes to move on to the final 15, while the top candidates got 25 votes each (from 49 selectors) and the top semifinalists who did not make the cut got seven.

The public does not need to know such data—no reason to embarrass an all-time great who only got a handful of votes—but selectors themselves could use the data to break logjams or gauge the real support behind last-chance candidates like Lewis.

As is the case in so many elements of the Hall of Fame voting process, the procedure itself just makes matters more muddled and confusing.

Walkthrough's Bold Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 Prediction

  • Don Coryell (coaches/contributors)
  • Devin Hester
  • Torry Holt
  • Chuck Howley (seniors)
  • Joe Klecko (seniors)
  • Darrelle Revis
  • Ken Riley (seniors)
  • Joe Thomas
  • Zach Thomas

Comments

171 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2023, 12:06pm

#153 by Legion // Jan 25, 2023 - 2:23pm

Still waiting to hear a good argument why Devin Hester (19 return TDs, 14455 all-purpose yards, 36 total TDs) is a Hall of Fame “lock” while Eric Metcalf (12 return TDs, 17230 all-purpose yards, 55 total TDs) isn’t even in the conversation.

You can like Hester over Metcalf, that’s fine. But arguing that one meets the Hall threshold and the other is not even semifinalist caliber is pretty weak.

Points: 1

#142 by takeleavebelieve // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:29am

“Hester was never good enough to be a starter”

I don’t entirely agree that Hester was never good enough to start; it’s probably more accurate to say that his coaches just never saw him as a starter, which is more of a contextual thing. If Hester was drafted by Andy Reid in 2016 instead of Lovie Smith in 2006, the conversation might be very different. 

Points: 0

#166 by BJR // Jan 26, 2023 - 8:58am

True, but we're talking about the HOF here. If Hester was truly that good, he'd have surely had some impact on the game outside of Special Teams - regardless of context.

Points: 0

#167 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 26, 2023 - 9:05am

Maybe.

He wouldn't be the first HoFer who was wasted by his original team.

Points: 0

#114 by trammo71 // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:45pm

Clearly the standards for WR's are way too low. I guess is someone was a #1 WR for a few years they are a HOFer.

Points: 0

#127 by KnotMe // Jan 24, 2023 - 9:23pm

This is why I don't hate the Hester candidacy. He's not getting in over Joe Thomas or Revis, he's getting in over Yet Another Wide Reciever, The QB Who Got Carried To a Ring Or Two Despite Bad Numbers and Mr Above Average in  Pittsburg or Dallas. 

Putting in the guy who was the best in the league at something, even if that something isn't THAT important is ok with me over the guy who was 5th or 8th best at a more important position. Matter of taste to a degree. 

Points: 2

#133 by andrew // Jan 25, 2023 - 8:20am

That door was opened when Art Monk, who arguably was never the best receiver on his own team, got in after a massive push campaign.  

Points: 0

#136 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 25, 2023 - 8:56am

He was in the mid 80s (ie he led the league in rec in 84).

ACCUMULATORS were probably more started with Charlie Joiner. Also a 3x PB, 1x AP1. Without the ringz or all decade team (despite playing the entire 70s).

Points: 0

#158 by andrew // Jan 25, 2023 - 3:18pm

He only had a couple years there, 84 and 85.   By 1986, Gary Clark was better and the carried on the rest of the way.   (both their careers ended in 1995).  Monk just had more years at the start, including his big one in 84.   In 82 and 83, Charlie Brown was better.  Clark never received any consideration for the hall, though.

 

Points: 0

#160 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 25, 2023 - 4:11pm

Hard to argue against them though when hes making all pro teams (while playing a game less in 85). Led them in his rookie year too. Took longer for him to get inducted than it did Joiner though. 

Points: 0

#111 by Bryan Knowles // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:38pm

Four Pro Bowl selections.  Three All-Pro teams.  A member of not one, but two All-Decade teams.  Named to the All-Rookie team.  Led the league in yards per punt return at least two times.  Led the league in punt return touchdowns three times.

Yes, it's long past time Rick Upchurch makes it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Points: 1

#122 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 7:29pm

Only leading league in punt return yards once and never in kick or kick return tds = massive L

in my humble opinion

Points: 0

#125 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 8:08pm

Denver kickoff returners weren't going to lead the League in anything, for the obvious reason.

Denver punt returners, on the other hand, especially from that era (when distance still competed with hang time for punting priority) had a huge, huge leg up on the other guys in the League. Greater punting distance meant an extra yard or two of room at the start of each and every punt return.

Points: 0

#132 by andrew // Jan 25, 2023 - 8:18am

He had the advantage of returning in high altitude, which meant opposing punters often outpunted their coverage units.

:/

 

I mean its not like he was able to have a long return in a superbowl or anything...

 

 

Points: 0

#150 by BroncFan07 // Jan 25, 2023 - 12:50pm

Just when it seemed as if they might drown, the sea parted. And through it came number eighty, Rick Upchurch.

Points: 0

#96 by doctorjorts // Jan 24, 2023 - 4:31pm

If we induct kickers into the Hall, why the heck not specialist kick returners?

Points: 2

#119 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:58pm

Because we have to include the carrier of Brady and Peyton

Points: 3

#120 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 7:19pm

You mean the NFL’s all-time leading scorers?

It’s a mystery.

Points: 7

#128 by LionInAZ // Jan 24, 2023 - 9:51pm

Placekickers score typically 25% of a teams total points. Vinatieri scored the equivalent of 445 TDs in his career. Tucker has become the most accurate kicker in history as well as holding the record 198 ft FG -- two-thirds the length of a football field. Don't these accomplishments deserve as much recognition as a few long punt returns with well-coached blocking schemes? 

Let's admit it: Hester's candidacy is based on a bunch of highlight reels. Fine, celebrity gets you a star on the Walk of Fame even if you're a bad actor.

Points: 0

#130 by doctorjorts // Jan 24, 2023 - 10:41pm

The fact that they score so many points is not a direct function of their importance. Taking your argument to its illogical conclusion, a goal-line running back is the most important player on a given drive because he carried the ball the final yard, even if the goal-line plunge was set up by a 50-yard bomb.

That doesn’t prove a kick returner IS valuable enough for the Hall, but one of the arguments against inducting a specialist is because of how few plays they are on the field. I’m saying kickers and punters should be penalized the same if that’s your argument. 
 

And if you still stick to your guns regarding kickers, then fine. Punters. If you think the very best punters in history belong in the hall of fame, then at the very least the very best punt returner has a place too. 

Points: 1

#84 by andrew // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:45pm

Coradelle Patterson has a career comparable to Devin Hester, but no one talks about him like he is even on the HOF radar.    Yes, he specialized even more (only Kickoff Returns), but that he did what he did when that position was being phased out of the league is even more impressive.  And his late blooming as an actual starter at Running Back is more successful than Hester was as an actual starter.

I kinda feel if you vote Hester in you have to have a serious look at Patterson when he's elligible..

Points: 3

#109 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:24pm

It's really about the highlights with Hester: Scoring to open the Super Bowl, scoring on the missed FG return (in prime time, complete with the casual walk to start), scoring the game-winning points in the "They are who we thought they were!" game, etc. Patterson's had a better career as an all-around player, but he just hasn't done it under the brightest lights.

Points: 0

#117 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:56pm

And Cordless Phone just got the all time record and is still in the middle of his career. 

Points: 0

#148 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:55am

Middle is pushing it, he'll be a 32 year old halfback this St. Patrick's Day (hell of a birthday to have btw). But yeah he should have another few seasons in him.

Points: 0

#118 by coboney // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:57pm

You don't have teams talking about having to change their strategies when playing Patterson to the same degree. That is part of what the Hester case is all about (I'm not a fan of it personally).

Points: 1

#139 by JonesJon // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:11am

Assuming Hester gets in I think Patterson is going to get a lot of support too

Points: -1

#141 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:20am

The pro for Patterson is he was a better all-around player than Hester was.

The con for Patterson is he didn't change opposing strategies the way Hester did.

It's sort of like Bob Hayes. From a numbers perspective, he's not a HOF WR. But he basically forced zone coverage into existence, because he could utterly break pure man defense.

Points: 0

#143 by ChrisS // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:57am

I had been thinking of Hayes as a Hester comp as well. But looking at his stats I was floored by him scoring TDs on almost 20% of his receptions. I wonder if this is higher than his completion percent.

Points: 0

#66 by TopherDoll // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:07pm

"I'd vote for Hines Ward before I would ever vote for Torry Holt or Reggie Wayne. It's not that I don't think they belong. I just think other guys like Ward belong more than they do."
—Voter A.

And Hall of Fame voters wonder why fans think there is a Pittsburgh bias.

Points: 6

#92 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 3:44pm

That paragraph struck me as well. I would have loved to hear what the rationale is.

 

Points: 3

#135 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 25, 2023 - 8:28am

Ward is a gritty, tough player that made contested catches and was a great blocker. He was also never better than the 2nd WR on his team, and well-renowned as a cheap shot artist. I'd like to hear that thinking, as well.

Points: 0

#137 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 25, 2023 - 9:27am

Ward was the WR1 on those 2003-2005 teams; Burris was the WR2. Probably still true through 2009, with Holmes as the WR2.

Points: 0

#140 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:11am

He was also the leading target getter in 00-02 as well.

Are we sure everyone has the same definition of WR1?

Points: 0

#54 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:37pm

A name not mentioned here But one I'd like to see in the hall someday is Justin Smith. I disagree with Bryan, in that I think Justin Smith was the best defensive player on those 49ers teams in the Harbaugh era.

Prior to JJ Watt, Justin Smith was the de facto standard for every 3-4 defensive end in the league. The guy was a terrorizing menace who was a big fulcrum to Aldon Smith racking up 20 plus sacks. 

You watch the guy play and he just screams Hall of famer to me. Oh, and the charting stats loved Justin Smith as well. 

Points: 0

#60 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:47pm

There is a certain symmetry to the 49ers contingent helping keep the Williams Wall out of the Hall, but at the price of having to lose the Smith Siblings.

I wouldn't mind a moratorium on Packers, Cowboys, and 49ers, though.

Points: 0

#62 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:59pm

He was a Hall of Famer by performance, but since he played for the Bengals the 1st half of his career, on at team that had winning record once, his performance wasn't recognized.

Points: 3

#81 by rh1no // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:40pm

I remember watching Smith on those early aughts Bengals squads. He was a beast, to be sure, but there was always a sense that he wasn't living up to his draft number due to the lack of sacks. It wasn't until his second year in SF that he was used in a 3-4 scheme, and that's when he started to have more success ... and get more national attemtion.

He's a first ballot Hall of Very Good inductee 100%. Could have been a Hall of Famer if he'd been used better on a better team for the first half of his career. 

Points: 1

#91 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 3:43pm

To me, a good example of the Hall of very good for 3-4 end Is Aaron Smith of the Steelers.

Justin Smith was the best defender on a defense stacked with great defenders. 

Points: 1

#104 by Chuckc // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:46pm

And should have been DPOY in 2011. Though I see 49ers had 3 of the top 6 vote getters that year. Which is ridiculous in its own right

Points: 1

#37 by mTrowbridge // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:27pm

Hester had 8 fumbles as a rookie when ALL he did was touch the ball on punt and kickoff returns. That is one fumble for every eight times he touched the ball that year. Yet he was voted All-Pro.

Points: 2

#41 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:37pm

Well he did lead the league in punt returns, yards and TDs along with kick return TDs

Points: 3

#32 by mTrowbridge // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:05pm

I would like to see Devin Hester's DVOA or DYAR numbers. Who says he is the greatest returner of all-time? He has more fumbles (41) than touchdowns (37). He has 3 more fumbles in the playoffs (despite touching the ball only 17 times!!!!). https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/H/HestDe99/gamelog/post/

Points: 1

#25 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:51am

I don't like the argument for Devin Hester as given because its once again affirms the Hall's touching the ball bias; albeit subtely. 

We absolutely don't give a shit about long snappers at all. Who even knows who the best one is. But clearly, that player has incredible value; we just take it for granted. Hester we all know about because HE touches the ball. Perhaps you can argue that his value impacts the game more; but that's conjecture because we simply do not pay attention at all to the job of long snappers. Perhaps a great one limits the number of blocked punts and field goals or safeties when a team is backed up in the end zone. 

To that end, we also should recognize gunners and all purpose guys who last a very long time. We also probably should include run stuffing nose guards who have incredible value even if they get played off the field in 3rd and longs.  

I don't mind rewarding Devin Hester a hall of fame jacket. I think Special Teams is a part of the game and does deserve recognition. But then please be consistent with it and thus far, they really haven't been at all. 

Points: 1

#59 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:45pm

We absolutely don't give a shit about long snappers at all.

Speak for yourself.

\Don Muhlbach forever!

Points: 3

#100 by Jay Z // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:27pm

Relative value, no.  The difference between the best long snapper and the worst is one snap a year maybe?

Points: 1

#101 by DGL // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:29pm

I'd posit that what matters is variance.  Robo-Long-Snapper, who delivers every snap exactly to the holder's or punter's hands laces up, is probably only 10% better than the average long snapper, who has a "bad snap" maybe one time in 50 and a snap where the laces are mispositioned, I dunno, one time in 10.  The 50 best long snappers in the world are all very, very good at what they do; they only get noticed when they get hurt after the active rosters for the game are set and some poor schmuck who practices maybe a dozen snaps a week gets forced into it.  The next week, when the team signs a new long snapper, no one is talking about how the kicking game is going to suffer because they had to sign a street FA to snap the ball.

So the best long snapper in the league has "incredible value" over James Harrison trying to snap on a punt, but their value over the "replacement-level long snapper" - the 33d best long snapper in the world, who's waiting for someone to get hurt - is very very marginal.

Points: 6

#17 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:43am

I am genuinely perplexed about Jared Allen being considered a notch below Freeney and Ware. That was certainly not my impression of that period at all. Also, its bizzare to me how much the Hall decides to pay attention to numbers and then decide the numbers aren't really that compelling; a nice wishy washy standard that allows personal opinion to trump everything else. 

All of the charting numbers showed Allen to be either 1a or 1b among pass rushers in that period. He was also a beast in run support as the numbers back that as well. He was also very consistent year to year; a trait not shared by all of his peers. And to boot, as soon as he left KC, their defense collapsed so embarassingly as a pass rushing unit that they went from something like below average to historically inept in a span of one season. If you care about postseason production only; he manhandled the Saints and Cowboys in 09. He was not some dude only football afficianados had heard about.  

If you think Ware is slightly better than him(I do), fine. If you think Freeney was slightly better than he was(I don't and I F*&@ love Dwight Freeney); that's fine too. If you think both are clearly better despite "pretty numbers" saying they aren't; we have a problem.

Points: 6

#58 by KnotMe // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:45pm

Honestly, I think the real problem Jared Allen, Freeney and Ware is:

1)As many people have said, it's pretty close

2)I feel like when you get a group at position they don't all get in, even if they probably all would if spaced differently. And people want to select 1 or 2 of the 3 and it's difficult. 

 

Points: 0

#76 by rh1no // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:21pm

That's just the way most people use and abuse statistics ... statistics represent uncontrovertible facts when they support MY viewpoint, but they are just lies, damned lies and statistics when they don't.

Points: 4

#15 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:38am

Combine sacks/forced fumbles/blocked passes....

 

Jared Allen 226

Demarcus Ware 198.5

Dwight Freeney 188.5

 

Where do people get the confidence to opine, as I've read many do, that Ware and Freeney were a cut above Allen?

Points: 6

#18 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:43am

Just wrote the same thing, but longer and more tedious, than you below. 

Points: 4

#65 by rh1no // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:06pm

This is Football Outsiders! If you're not going to post unwieldy, overly argumentative opinions on the minutae of football, then what are you even doing here?

Points: 3

#72 by KnotMe // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:15pm

Obvously Aaron, Bryan, etc have the best job eva. 

Getting paid for it!

Points: 1

#19 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:44am

Freeney played for a team that was in the playoffs and were on the national stage all the time. Ware had a star on his helmet. Jared Allen was a force of nature playing in the Far North, then for a team that, ahem, lacked personality.

Points: 0

#23 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:47am

I think Allen, somewhat ironically, suffers for his race.

He's a schlubby-looking white dude. People don't look at him and think "HOF DE". Whereas with Ware... you do.

\I can't explain Zach Thomas, though. He's out of MLB central casting.

Points: 3

#28 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:54am

Dr.Z once used Jared Allen as an example of Sportswriters being incredibly lazy and mouthing out tropes at the expense of actual journalism.

In this case, a sportswriter looked up Jared Allen's college (Iowa I believe); and of course Allen being a grizzled white dude; decided that Allen's journey to NFL stardorm likely resulted from a midwestern upbringing akin to JJ Watt or something.

In reality, Jared Allen lived and went to highschool in Los Gatos CA; the next town over from where I grew up and the absolute antithesis of the stereotypical midwestern town in the cornfields. On top of the fact that Allen was a power and speed athlete who didn't just win matchups through grit and moxie. 

Points: 7

#40 by Kaepernicus // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:37pm

Jared Allen was a gifted athlete. Being 6'6" 270 lbs and having a 4.7 40 along with a 120 inch broad jump is freakish at that size. He isn't in the same universe of athleticism as Ware because Ware is an all-time freak in that regard. Relative to other HOF edge rushers he is probably above average though. For me it is Ware, Allen, and Freeney in that order. Freeney was the best pure pass rusher of the bunch but he was by far the worst run defender. Peppers is going to jump them all though next year so one of them needs to get in this year. 

Points: 3

#49 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:11pm

Allen and Ware were really close in total forced fumbles and sacks, close enough to call it a tie, or possible statistical misattribution. Allen had 33 more blocked passes, a greatly underrated play, in terms of adding value. I don't think it can be reasonably argued that Ware was a better run defender. I think Allen was better, and Cowboys prominence and a Super Bowl win are what is moving Ware past Allen in some people's minds.

Points: 4

#61 by Coldmilk // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:56pm

I think some people, myself included, see blocked passes as a moot point, because a blocked pass means you lost at the point of attack (in other words, you aren’t putting any pressure on the quarterback, so it doesn’t speak well to your skill/ability. Maybe the opposite, in fact). 

Points: -4

#64 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:03pm

One could make a similar case for pressures vs sack. Since the pressure by definition did not stop the pass, its impact was muted. Now, it's true that pressure impacts the accuracy of the throw, but then a batted pass also does that as well. 

Either way, it's a valuable play by the defense because it's stopping the pass attempt

Points: 3

#67 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:07pm

That only applies to guys who did not get dominant sack totals for their position, and nearly all leading pass blockers have dominant sack totals. Allen had 136 sacks, Ware had 138.5. Those 33 extra pass blocks are nearly all added value, and significant added value at that. 

Points: 3

#68 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:08pm

That's not a great take. If the QB can see you (which, if you're a DT, he can), very few sacks aren't avoidable if the QB has a hot read. You can win and be collapsing the pocket all you want but the ball+QB moves backwards faster than you can, so the QB's always got time. Getting your hands up is super-important to mitigate the quick game.

Points: 1

#73 by Coldmilk // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:16pm

All fair points about pressures vs. sacks, but I think you’re assuming a blocked pass after you  defeat the blocker, so it would be a pressure and a blocked pass, but not a sack. That may be true for some of them, but most blocked passes (anecdotally, at least), seem to be a guy throwing his hand up while being blocked - not a terribly effective measure of greatness. I’d rather see 10 more pressures than 20 more blocked passes, because that proves you’re crushing the O line, not just swatting at random flies. 

Points: -1

#77 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:23pm

but most blocked passes (anecdotally, at least), seem to be a guy throwing his hand up while being blocked - not a terribly effective measure of greatness.

It's moreso than you think. Especially interior linemen obviously get doubled plenty, and being able to keep your hands/arms free enough to still block the lane is not easy.

Edge rushers it's more of a fine line, although I still don't really agree.

Points: 0

#71 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:12pm

A blocked pass is still a failed play for the offense, worth as much or more than a defensed pass or a QB hit which affects the pass.

If you treated a blocked pass as a 0-yard sack, how would you regard it?

Points: 2

#74 by Coldmilk // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:17pm

Absolutely true. Blocked passes are a good measure of team defensive success, but not necessarily individual defender greatness. Unless the metrics say that blocked passes are predictive, which may be true. I think they’re more random than other EDGE stats

Points: 0

#78 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:28pm

No, Kevin Williams did not random his way into 30 more blocked passes than the next defensive tackle. It's a skill, which is why nearly all the great pass blockers have great sack totals.

Points: 3

#79 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:30pm

Eyeing the leader boards, it seems passes defensed is seen as an important stat for DBs and LBs.

Points: 0

#80 by ChrisS // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:36pm

Sometimes, more so for interior linemen than outside, the assignment is to hold your position as someone else is stunting or blitzing in which case a pass deflection is the peak accomplishment.

Points: 3

#152 by Sixknots // Jan 25, 2023 - 1:40pm

Jared Allen attended Idaho State, which is even less mid-westerny.

Points: 1

#31 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:00pm

I can't explain Zach Thomas, though. He's out of MLB central casting

I think Thomas's problem is the same problem that Kevin Williams has. He wasn't Ray Lewis - he was a clear second-best to Lewis. Of course, that's because if there was a "Hall of Fame++", Lewis would be in that, too. Which is why it's a stupid knock on Thomas.

Williams has a similar problem even though he didn't really overlap with Donald. Donald just came on and said "don't mind me, clearly different than practically any DT in history," and by the time Williams hit Hall eligibility... he was good, but he's no Aaron Donald. Which, again, Donald's a Hall of Fame++ member. So it's a stupid knock.

Personally, I think Allen, Freeney, Ware, etc. also might have the same problem. You've got both Peppers and JJ Watt coming up, who really have better arguments from a numbers perspective. (And again - crappy argument). 

Points: 2

#33 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:07pm

I agree about Watt, but was Peppers clearly better than the guys he's been compared with? I could certainly entertain peak Peppers, but he was also pretty inconsistent in ways those other guys weren't. And I think all of the names listed belong in the Hall. They were better as edge defenders than Holt and Wayne were as receivers imo.

Points: 3

#113 by Kaepernicus // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:43pm

I honestly think Peppers is more of an argument for being productive for 17 straight seasons. He also had 11 interceptions and scored 4 TDs. He was also a literal physical prototype for edge rusher and made 2 different HOF All-Decade teams. I think those accolades are probably setting him up to be a first ballot guy. He didn't really do much in the postseason though. He played 18 games and racked up 6.5 sacks. For comparison, Nick Bosa has played 8 postseason games and already has 8 sacks. Peppers is one of those guys who was just great for a really long time. I think Allen, Freeney, and Ware all had higher peaks. Peppers is one of those guys that was great from day one and stayed above average at worst for almost 2 decades.

Points: 0

#146 by Pat // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:34am

Yeah, it's the combination of Watt and Peppers, to me. Watt was better than any of these guys and Peppers was longer. But like I said, the "not as good as X" doesn't ring well with me anyway.

Points: 0

#171 by JimZipCode // Jan 28, 2023 - 12:06pm

He wasn't Ray Lewis - he was a clear second-best to Lewis. Of course, that's because if there was a "Hall of Fame++", Lewis would be in that, too.He wasn't Ray Lewis - he was a clear second-best to Lewis. Of course, that's because if there was a "Hall of Fame++", Lewis would be in that, too.

Ravens fan here. For years I had a problem with accurately grasping Brian Urlacher.  My impression was “Eh.  He's not that good.”  He's a freakin Hall Of Famer!  But Ray Lewis had broken my measuring ability at the position.

On the other hand, I think most quarterbacks look awesome.

 

 

Points: 0

#13 by Kaepernicus // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:35am

Special teams is a very underrated part of the NFL and deserves recognition. The problem right now is 5 is already too low each year as the NFL has added teams. I honestly think they should have an ST slot added. Then you could get great returners, punters, kickers, gunners in there without taking a spot away from a full-time player. If Hester keeps guys like Ware, Willis, Johnson, or Freeney out it would be a travesty. Maybe they just need to get 6-7 players as the max number. If they did that 10 years ago Zach Thomas would be in for sure.

Points: 8

#24 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:48am

Special teams was historically under-represented in the Hall, but less so now. With Guy, Anderson, Stenerud already in and Vinatieri, Tucker, and possibly even Lechler, that's probably going to be something like 5 guys inducted in probably less than 20 years.

The main reason I'm so angry regarding Hester is really simple. Some of the finalists need really great presentations on what the player did to convince people. Hester doesn't. No one is doubting that Hester's an insane returner. The problem with Hester isn't him, it's the idea of him. And so either Hester's going to either get in (the lesser of 2 evils IMHO), or he's going to keep taking up space on the finalist's ballot when other players don't even get there - guys whose backers might need those years to craft presentations to sway voters.

The Hall voters just need to decide what to do with Hester as soon as possible. Either you put a pure returner in, or you don't. Punting the question continually to next year just hurts everyone else.

Points: 6

#155 by KnotMe // Jan 25, 2023 - 2:52pm

If they keep punting the question he'll take it to the house one of those times. 

(I'll show myself out )

Points: 0

#10 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:21am

He can be but jumping guys like Zach Thomas is...not good. 

Points: -1

#7 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:12am

"Steve Smith is so pissed right now."
—Voter C.

"I'd vote for Hines Ward before I would ever vote for Torry Holt or Reggie Wayne. It's not that I don't think they belong. I just think other guys like Ward belong more than they do."
—Voter A.

I have to admit, if it came down to a fist fight to get in, Ward and Smith are your finalists, but I have no idea who wins that fight. But it would be fascinating to watch.

Points: 4

#22 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:46am

I would pay to see that on the dais at the Hall of Fame game.

Points: 0

#45 by rh1no // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:01pm

Steve Smith is on his way to your house RIGHT NOW to beat you up for doubting his ability to win the fight.

So, yeah. Steve Smith.

Points: 3

#55 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:38pm

The difficulty is Hines Ward will take me out the second I square up on Steve Smith.

Points: 6

#6 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:09am

Hester gets in. Kevin Williams doesn't get to the semifinalist round. The institution is dominated by ignorami.

 

Points: 3

#14 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:38am

They seriously just need to make at least the semifinalist level positional. Don't let guys be debating WRs vs DTs vs centers vs kickers. That's how you get like 5 WRs at the semis, because enough people are convinced that some of these guys have to be Hall contenders that all of them get through.

Points: 3

#16 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:42am

Kevin Williams was a much better player, but it's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Contribution, and Hester has a lot of highlight reel stuff.

Hell, I can make an argument that Tasker is (and certainly one that Holt and Wayne are) more deserving than Hester, and I like Hester.

Points: 1

#27 by Will Allen // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:51am

Heck, let's induct Tim Tebow, then. More famous than Devin Hester!

Points: 2

#29 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:55am

On top of the fact that nowhere in the bylaws does it say the Hall of Fame is about Fame or name recognition at all. Its about on the field contributions. 

Points: 2

#51 by KnotMe // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:24pm

I you take that literally basically every QB with a 10+ year career gets in. Although part of that is how we assign value. 

Points: 0

#126 by bravehoptoad // Jan 24, 2023 - 8:53pm

And a lot of QBs without. If Fame is the criteria, then Ryan Leaf is a shoe in, and Tim Tebow, and dot dot dot.

Points: 0

#134 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 25, 2023 - 8:23am

Please note that I didn't say I *agreed* with it, just that it tends to go that way (see Swann, Lynn).

Points: 0

#5 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:09am

If we left Deion Sanders or Steve Smith as returners for their whole careers, they would have been as good or better. But they were starters, and Hester was never good enough to be a starter. So I'm supposed to reward a guy for not being good enough to play a more important role?"

This is a weird argument, as Deion is in the HOF and Steve Smith kinda-maybe probably should be.

\but only after Kevin Williams

Points: 3

#12 by ChrisS // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:34am

I think the subtle argument in this statement is that the best (arguably) DB is more valuable than the best Returner. That's the kind of analysis we expect from HOFer voters

Points: 2

#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:45am

I would argue Deion was maybe (maybe) the best man-defending DB. But he was utterly useless if you ran the ball toward him. And that was part of his job.

Points: 1

#34 by ChrisS // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:09pm

I wouldn't argue in Dions favor as i basically agree with you, but I have read articles having him best overall.

Points: 1

#42 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:46pm

It really wasn't part of his job. By bump-and-running him exclusively, he took care of one blocker, the guy he was covering. (thereby guaranteeing the block would work, granted)

So his teams did have to scheme some to cover for him in that way. But they all managed that with little apparent ill effect.

Points: 2

#43 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:54pm

And John Madden was mostly accurate when he noted that Deion did most always indeed get the guy down. He just looked so terrible doing it.

Points: 3

#44 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:59pm

One final note: Since Deion did always play up on the guy, he didn't have to worry about coming up to tackle a Steve Smith (for example) on quick routes. Deion was always right there to make those tackles. (perhaps most accurately, took those routes away by virtue of being right on the guy from the snap)

(I do wonder how Deion would've managed against bubble screens to a stacked receiver, which they hadn't thought of yet during his time)

Points: 3

#56 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:40pm

I didn't watch Deion Sanders but I recoil at the near universal love he gets as the best cornerback in NFL history, hands down from a coverage standpoint.

The reason I'm leery about such proclamations is because 

a) As far as I'm aware, there were zero charting stats to back up this claim.

b) he played in an era that is by far much easier to be a cornerback than it is today or certainly during Revis' era

To be clear, I'm not saying Deion Sanders isn't the greatest corner of all time. Maybe even with all those caveats in place he still is. But the level of certainty from which people proclaim those things bothers me to no end.

Points: 0

#86 by Scott P. // Jan 24, 2023 - 3:14pm

I feel claims like 'greatest of all time' only make sense if you are including context. Was Deion in his era farther above his contemporaries than Revis in his? So I don't think b) is a caveat at all.

Points: 1

#94 by HitchikersPie // Jan 24, 2023 - 4:28pm

@pgconboy has a lot of his games charted on twitter, he was very good, and has tonnes of testimonials from WRs that he was the toughest, including Irvin and Rice who were the best WRs of the 90s

Points: 0

#97 by theslothook // Jan 24, 2023 - 4:34pm

I tried a quick Google search but could not find the charting results 

Points: 0

#156 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 25, 2023 - 2:59pm

Stats, Inc. charted CBs by passer rating allowed for a few seasons in the 1990s, and he routinely led the NFL in that category, while typically following the other team's best receiver. Unfortunately I don't think I have those books anymore. I just found a printout I kept that had him with 39 targets, 13 catches allowed, and a league-low 33.3% catch rate allowed (nobody else was below 40%) in 1995, his first year in Dallas. Though he was limited that year to only nine games. 

Points: 1

#50 by KnotMe // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:22pm

The problem is if you start going by absolute value then pretty much every QB who played 10 years ends up in the hall. And it seems weird to apply an absolute standard to some positions and not others. 

I think probably the way to look at it is value compared to position. How much did Hester add compared to a standard returner? It also seems like a position where it's hard to add additional value. 

I've kinda made my peace with it. Hester isn't any worse than "Random Guy who happened to be on a great team" or trying to put Eli in bc he had crazy luck and good coach who pissed off the union by being an arse in FO. 

Points: 6

#116 by coboney // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:52pm

The argument essentially is  - is he really the best at this position, or only the best who wasn't a primary option or frontline producer at another position? A lot of excellent returners become part time in that role or rare sightings in that because they are focused on other jobs. Deion and Smith are two examples of that - but there are others all over.

Points: 0

#170 by Tracy // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:42pm

I think the only way that argument works is if you claim that returner isn't a position, rather it's a role to be fulfilled by someone whose primary job is to play an offensive or defensive role. Support for this argument is found in the fact that for many teams, the only special teams positions that appear on a published depth chart are K, P, and LS. If you start from that assumption, it matters more that Hester's position was WR, not returner, and he doesn't merit consideration based on his WR contributions, so it's hard for the anymous voter to include him based on his accomplishment as a returner.

That he chose 2 hall of fame players as examples of people who might've been better as a returner severely weakens the argument, in my opinion, because it sets the imagination running wild about whether good players who are not serious hall of fame candidates (Keenan Allen, Wes Welker, Keyshawn Johnson, for example) could also have been great at returner. If not, then maybe Hester was so good at returner that he was rostered at the returner position, and filled a backup wr role as a secondary responsibility. Now the underlying assumption about returner not being a position can be falsified, and it doesn't matter who else could've been great at that position, only who was great at that position.

Points: 0

#2 by dryheat // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:00am

If we left Deion Sanders or Steve Smith as returners for their whole careers, they would have been as good or better. But they were starters, and Hester was never good enough to be a starter. So I'm supposed to reward a guy for not being good enough to play a more important role?

 

Setting aside the fact that this is option/conjecture, this is the best argument against Hester.  I'd probably still vote for him, though.

Points: 8

#4 by swede700 // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:07am

That is one of my main concerns, because guys like Brian Mitchell and Eric Metcalf have been dismissed often in the past because of the production at their primary positions, and I believe both of them were better at that than Hester was and were not that less effective as returners.  I think Hester made his primary mistake in converting to WR.  If he had stayed at CB, like he should have, there probably wouldn't be a question.  But, he was a mediocre WR.  Hell, Cordarelle is probably more effective as a RB/WR than Hester was as a WR.  

Points: 0

#47 by Rufus R. Jones // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:08pm

You think he would have been a HOF level CB? What is that based on? College film?

Points: 2

#112 by anthonytwotimes // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:39pm

Lol they weren’t even in the same stratosphere as Hester. 

Points: 0

#8 by ChrisS // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:15am

His incremental value as a great special team player doesn't seem that much more than  an average special team player. He was certainly more entertaining than an average special teamer. 20 TDs for a K/P/FG returner is impressive but 36 total TD's in an 11 year career, not so much.

Points: 3

#9 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:17am

It's sort of like the Robo-Punter argument -- what's the value of +10 yards on every possession because the opponent is terrified of sending a ball into your zip code?

Points: 2

#11 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:34am

It's the exact same reason I tear my hair out regarding the massive growth in Hall special teams players in the past decade or so (note that I'm including guys like Hester, Vinatieri, and Tucker as "in" already, because they will all get in).

It's not that I don't think these guys were great at what they did. They were! But what they did was just so, so much less important than interior linemen and off-ball linebackers, and the ST guys are trending to be more represented than them, which is crazy. Huge fan of Justin Tucker. Nowhere near as important to a team as an elite center/guard.

Really, the overall problem is that the Hall just needs to change the voting, and do it by position than just by grouped players. And probably change the bylaws for maximum number of people in each year.

Points: 4

#20 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:44am

I've never seen anything like a concerted analysis of the value of kickers/punters/return guys. Which is odd, as that seems totally like something analytics would be good at. We started down that road with the Robo-Punter thought experiment, but never really finished it. I can even see how you could start to approach the problem.

This is true for line play as well, but there you can see the effects of line performance elsewhere.

Granted, if you think ST is unimportant, I give you the Chargers.

Points: 3

#30 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 11:56am

I've never seen anything like a concerted analysis of the value of kickers/punters/return guys.

I mean... you kindof have. It's called their salaries. I've made this argument elsewhere and people hate it when I bring it up, but NFL teams aren't stupid regarding paying guys.

I agree it'd be really interesting to see a statistical analysis, but in the end, it's gotta end up being close to the salary differential.

Points: 0

#36 by dmstorm22 // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:19pm

But in a weird way, i think the salary point is a fair reason to say why I'm ok with a Steve Smith not getting in and a Hester getting in (granted, I think Steve Smith should get in).

I'm generally a proponent of putting the best in their position into the HOF and not making judgements that the Nth best DT or OL is more valuable than the Zth best off-ball linebacker, or in this case returner.

Maybe many players could've been as good as Hester if they just stayed as returners instead of focusing on receiving (or playing safety, like an Ed Reed). But they chose a decision that was the financially prudent one. A good (non-HOF) receiver that was Hester's contemporary probably made far more money than Hester did. The money was your reward. 

For Hester, he didn't get the money, but I'm ok if he gets the recognition as the best punt returner ever.

Points: 2

#52 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:24pm

I think the whole thing is finding a balance between "put X of the greatest at position Y in" and "put X of the literal most valuable players on the field in."

I think that's instinctually what everyone does - you recognize you put more QBs than kickers, for instance. It's just a question of what that relative balance is.

That's part of the reason why I mention OL so much, because they're extremely highly valued by teams (in terms of salary) but don't get nearly the recognition in terms of the Hall.

Points: 3

#102 by DGL // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:35pm

Would Robo-Returner - who runs every kick they field back for a touchdown - be worthy of a #1 draft pick, let alone be a HoF player?

In theory, it's a guaranteed seven points once a game, and after every opponent score, and every time the opponents punt.  That's HoF caliber.  But in reality, the opposition would (1) kick the ball out the back of the end zone - or, worst case, out of bounds - on every kickoff and (2) put every punt out of bounds (or through the end zone if punting from close enough to the end zone).  So the actual result would simply be field position - every drive after a kickoff would start at the 25 or 40, and every drive after a punt would start about 40 yards from the fourth down LoS.

So the result is a returner who "changes the game" because the other team has to kick away from them - but how valuable is that, really?

Points: 0

#107 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:59pm

A lot. Unless you're in Denver no way you gamble on the kickoff going through the end zone, so every drive starts at the 40. And if you think "40 yards from the fourth down LOS" is how far a guaranteed out-of-bounds punt goes, you are not paying one bit of attention.

Points: 0

#154 by DGL // Jan 25, 2023 - 2:45pm

So kickers will aim to put the kickoff out of bounds two yards past the pylon.  If they succeed, it's a touchback; if not, the receiving team gets the ball at the 40.  So call it a weighted average kickoff starting field position of around the 35; IIRC, average field position after kickoffs is somewhere around the 25.  (Even if the kicker is 100% unable to put the ball out of bounds in the end zone and just kicks it OOB where the receiving team starts every drive at the 40, that's 15 yards better than average.)

You're right about OOB punts, so let's say that a punter can with confidence put a punt out of bounds (not returnable) 30 yards past the LOS.  Average net punt yardage is around 40 yards.  So the bottom line is that in both cases, robo-returner gives his team about 10-15 yards better field position on every drive that starts with receiving a kick.

I'll leave to others to calculate the value of that.

Points: 0

#164 by BigRichie // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:24pm

On kickoffs, no, if they fail the wrong way, it doesn't go out of bounds at all and thus it's a touchdown with Robo-Returner. You just cannot aim anywhere near the pylon and be sure of getting the kick out of bounds. You have to kick the ball pretty much straight out of bounds.

On a punt, same thing really. You aim for 30 yards out of bounds, some are going to miss toward the field, not go out of bounds, and then TD. I'd say more like 20 yards, 25 max, if you want to be certain.

Points: 0

#168 by DGL // Jan 26, 2023 - 10:54am

OK, taking your assumptions, that means (1) every drive after a kickoff starts at the 40 (+15 yards of field position compared to average) since I'm confident any NFL kicker can reliably kick a ball out of bounds more than 25 yards downfield and (2) every punt nets 20-25 yards (and since average net on punts is 40, we can use a net of 25 to make the math simpler).

In other words, every drive starts with 15 yards better field position with Robo-returner on the field.  The only formula I've been able to find for expected points as a function of field position equates a difference of 15 yards to anywhere from around 0.5 points to 0.75 points, so let's split the difference and call it 0.625 points per drive.  At 12 drives per game that makes Robo-returner about 7.5 points per game more valuable than an average returner, which is pretty darn good.

 

Points: 0

#53 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:34pm

Case against salaries as proxy: Trent Baalke. The New Orleans Saints.

Points: 2

#85 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 3:07pm

That's why I said "kinda." It's a bad proxy, with stupid mistakes and overpays and craziness. But it's still a data point that you should take into consideration. On its own, not very useful, but along with everything else it can help.

Points: 0

#35 by dmstorm22 // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:13pm

I forget where Robo-Punter discourse ended, but without putting too much thought (and no real math) into it, I would imagine a true robo-punter would be among the most valuable players in the league.

The expected points gained by pinning a team at the 1 is massive. And to basically do that on any drive that doesn't end in a score is again huge.

Points: 1

#39 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 12:35pm

And to basically do that on any drive that doesn't end in a score is again huge.

It actually isn't, for one important reason: the drive didn't end in a score. Yes, it's a huge deal to flip the field if you're stuck on the 1 and you punt it 98 yards or something. But first, that only happens rarely, and second, it's only like 2-3 more EP than a normal punt. So the average contribution there isn't as much as you think. And in order to actually, y'know, score, you still have to be able to move the ball on offense. And if you can move the ball on offense, ROBO-PUNTER's value goes down.

That's why the whole discussion led to things like building your entire team around ROBO-PUNTER, where you just have nothing but pass rushers or something to try to force a defensive TD or a safety or something. But again... you're only a roughing the passer penalty away from a nearly zero-EP situation again, at which point things fall apart.

If you're a team that regularly gets stuck inside your own 20 and has to punt, ROBO-PUNTER's hugely valuable... but you're a crappy team. A lot of times ROBO-PUNTER would add surprisingly little value to a "normal" NFL team.

Points: -1

#57 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 24, 2023 - 1:44pm

It's interesting that we hold not scoring against punters, but refuse to reward scoring for kickers, because it's apparently too easy.

Points: 1

#63 by Pat // Jan 24, 2023 - 2:00pm

Point of note, if we're talking a ROBO-KICKER who can kick a FG from anywhere on the field, holy crap he's the most valuable player in the league. Only a handful of offenses in NFL history have ever hit 3 points/drive.

Points: 10

#88 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 24, 2023 - 3:24pm

Yeah that would be a crazy valuable player.

I'm pretty sure that list of 3+ points per drive offense is:

  1. NE - 2007 - 3.37 - Brady        2702 combined DYAR (1st), 54.1% DVOA (1st), League MVP
  2. KC - 2018 - 3.25 - Mahomes 2050 combined DYAR (1st), 39.9% DVOA (1st), League MVP
  3. GB - 2020 - 3.22 - Rodgers   1673 combined DYAR (2nd), 33.7% DVOA (1st), League MVP
  4. NO - 2018 - 3.21 - Brees       1674 combined DYAR (2nd), 36.7% DVOA (2nd), Runner-up MVP
  5. BAL - 2019 - 3.08 - Jackson  1534 combined DYAR (2nd), 34.9% DVOA (2nd), League MVP
  6. GB - 2011 - 3.05 - Rodgers   2130 combined DYAR (2nd), 46.6% DVOA (1st), League MVP
  7. ATL - 2016 - 3.04 - Ryan       1927 combined DYAR (1st), 39.1% DVOA (1st), League MVP

I threw the QBs with passing + rushing DYAR and passing DVOA with ordinal ranks up there to show what kind of QB season an offense like that tends to lead too. The worst DYAR is 1534 and the worst passing DVOA is 33.7%. The only QB to do it and not win MVP was Brees in 2018 and he was runner up to Mahomes who led a slightly higher scoring offense and had one of the best QB seasons ever. Bree's numbers for 2018 are good enough to be MVP level in many other seasons.

Now I've seen the 98 Vikings, 10 Pats, 11 Saints, and 13 Broncos as listed as breaking the 3 points per offensive drive barrier but as best I can tell that math was just total points scored / offensive drives and so the offense gets credit for special teams and defensive TD's. The above list was verified by the drive stats here on Football Outsiders.

So yeah that helps illustrate in a way the kind of value ROBO-KICKER would have. You'd have an offense like one of those 7 teams and that's just insanely good offense.

Points: 5

#163 by thok // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:02pm

If anything, this analysis underrates Robokicker, since even for an all-time great teams like the 2007 Patriots he'd still be incredibly valuable. The 2007 Patriots punted 44 times; Robokicker turns that into 132 points, or roughly 8 points per game, which would be coming specifically in the games where the Patriots offense struggled.

Points: 0

#95 by seesau // Jan 24, 2023 - 4:29pm

Even the best offenses in the league punt multiple times each game. If a player existed who could pin a team at the one on every punt he would be the most valuable single player in the league.  The team would allow many fewer points and score many more points because the opponent would start every non kickoff at the 1 yard line. Just in terms of raw yardage that would be over 20 yards of average field position per punt (teams starting field position averages in the 20's after a punt). 20 yards in a vaccuum is worth about 1 expected point per punt, but in fact the expected points are more than that if its the difference between starting at the 20 vs the 1 yard line. The team who punted the least in the league in 2022 punted 46 times. Each punt has a value >1 point and the least punting team who played 17 games punted 52 times.  The "Robopunter" would be responsible for over +50 point differential over the course of a season vs a normal starting punter (a normal starting punter, not a replacement level punter).  Its hard to say exactly since the hypothetical team would choose to punt in more situations but they'd also end more drives in field goal or TD range.

  By himself he'd elevate a season like the Jaguars to about what the Chiefs did or the Ravens to the Bengals if we're counting all yards of field position equally, which really the effect would be more dramatic since the effect of being on the 1 yard line specifically is greater than that.

Points: 4

#144 by Pat // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:04am

I think the difficulty is that it was the most value to teams that are already not good. Good teams have games where they rarely punt all the time. Again: the SF/DAL game would've added maybe 1-1.5 EP to either team.

That's why I've said I don't know how to value that. Punts aren't kickoffs. They by definition happen on a failed drive. It's not like a kicker, or even a returner, where the value is guaranteed and automatic.

Points: 0

#108 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:04pm

Forcing every "OK we didn't score so now you have to start at your own 1-yard line" would be enormously valuable.

Points: 1

#145 by Pat // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:26am

Of course it's *valuable*. Not disagreeing there. But if someone asks me if I want Mahomes and a replacement punter vs ROBO-PUNTER and a replacement QB, pretty sure I'd go with Mahomes.

Points: 0

#147 by theslothook // Jan 25, 2023 - 11:35am

I'd like to see the numbers. If literally every drive for the opposing offense with Mahomes began at the 1 yard line; I would go with the replacement QB. 

EDIT

Thanks Aaron Brooks

Points: 0

#149 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 25, 2023 - 12:29pm

In his career, Mahomes's average points per drive on drives starting at the 1 is -1. His average yards gained per drive is 3.

He's converted no first downs and taken safeties half the time. EPA per drive has been negative.

You are probably better with a replacement QB at a normal drive position than Mahomes starting at the 1.

\for shiggles, I looked at Brady. 0.25 pt/drive, with a TO about 15% of the time. Usually gets the ball to the 20 and then punts.

Points: 0

#157 by mrh // Jan 25, 2023 - 3:05pm

Went to the link.  8 of those drives started at the 2, Robo-Punter sneers at allowing such great field position.  6 drives started at the 1.  One of those drives was in the last game of 2020 season when Mahomes sat and Henne played (he took a safety), so we can't count that against Mahomes' record.

That leaves five drives.  Three didn't get past the 10 and ended in punts.  One resulted in a TD and one in a safety (Kareem Hunt tackled in the end zone but we'll count that against Mahomes who threw incomplete on first down).  Anyway, that's 5 net points on five drives or 1.0 points per drive starting at the 1.  The punts on the those 3 non-scoring drives were pretty negative outcomes that don't factor into this number.

 

Edit to add:  an it was 24.8 yards per the 5 drives starting at the 1.  Note that on the 8 drives starting at the 2, the average yds/drive was 52.3 with 2 TDs and a FG, or over 2 points per drive (and one INT).  Still, this exemplifies the value of Robo-Punter, who would have gained Mahomes' opponents 27.5 yards per drive (52.3 - 24.8) on those 8 drives (Robo-Punter ignores small samples).

Points: 0

#159 by mrh // Jan 25, 2023 - 3:35pm

We have a joke around our house, when a team pins the Chiefs inside the 10:  we've got them right where we want them.  In the Mahomes era, the Chiefs have had 94 drives start at their own 10 or worse.  32 have ended in TDs or 34%.  The Bucs are next best at 22.2%, which is closer to the #28 Bears (10.8%) than it is to the Chiefs at #1.

Points: 0

#162 by Pat // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:35pm

Hmm, I didn't think about it as a *defense*.

The problem is that it's "1 point/drive" only on plays where the offense *fails*. So you can't think of it like "ROBO-PUNTER = 1 pt/drive on defense." So, for instance, those punts probably are between the 50-60, so about 2-ish EP at that point.

Now pretend that's a FG with 66% chance. You fail or succeed, the opponent gets normal field position. So assume *half* of the drives are 1 pt/drive, the others are normal (2 pts/drive). So OK, it's a defense of 1.5 pts/drive, which is *good* but not like, epic all time.

It's still really really good, though. Like most of the time that'd be the best defense in the league.

But! Let's just assume Mahomes is everything on that offense. Since he started KC's been 2.86 pt/drive on average: so +0.86 more than average, versus -0.5 on the ROBO-PUNTER defense.

Thinking about it like a defense makes it way more valuable, though. Much closer, definitely.

Points: 0

#161 by Pat // Jan 25, 2023 - 10:27pm

It's not "replacement QB at normal" vs "Mahomes at 1". It's "opponent at 1 on non-scoring drives plus replacement QB" vs Mahomes.

Crudely part of the reason why I said it *wasn't* that valuable is because EP for a drive starting at the 1 is like, -1 EP or so. Which means you have an offense that scores 1 point/drive, which isn't good. If we go *purely* by Hidden Game it's -1.92, which is still not great. (And that's with an average QB).

It's tough, of course, since part of the EP from the 1 is "you gain yards, punt, they gain yards, punt, etc." which doesn't exist in this case.

If you assume opponent goes 6 yards + 40 yard punt, though, that puts you at +53, which is again, a little under 2, so consistent.

Honestly it's a bit crazy how difficult this is to think about, at least in my opinion. An idealized player at almost any other position is obviously awesome: see ROBO-KICKER above, and a perfect position player obviously wins. But a punter's just not obvious.

Points: 0

#105 by horn // Jan 24, 2023 - 5:54pm

If Devin Hester isn't a HoF returner [who did play other positions if not a starter] than no special teams player should ever make it and half the 'regular' players going forward on these ballots shouldn't even be considered whatsoever. 

He broke every record, every team feared him, he did it on the biggest of stages at the SB, he could single-handedly win you a game -- something even a QB or pass-rusher cannot do. 

Points: 0

#110 by Bryan Knowles // Jan 24, 2023 - 6:32pm

He didn't break every record, is part of the point -- Hester is only third in punt return yards (behind Brian Mitchell and Dave Meggett), and multiple players have more yards per punt return than Hester, including Billy Johnson, Desmond Howard and Rick Upchurch.

Hester does have the punt return touchdown record, but the argument for Hester is less about breaking records and more about altering how opposing teams had to play the game.

Points: 3

#124 by BigRichie // Jan 24, 2023 - 7:59pm

Pretty useless to say 'Ralph had more yards per return than Fred' without accounting for era/environment. In particular regarding Upchurch, Denver's thin air made punts go farther and so gave punt returners (especially of that era) an extra yard or two of room on each punt.

Points: 0

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