Rewind'10: Devin Hester's multiple roles

January, 4, 2011
1/04/11
10:15
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The end of the regular season closes the door on season statistics and milestones. So as time permits over the next few weeks, we'll be drawing conclusions on our preseason themes and touching on some of the more interesting trends that developed during the season.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDevin Hester once again proved he is the most dangerous returner in the NFL.
We'll start with Chicago Bears receiver/returner Devin Hester, whose 2010 crossroads we first discussed in August. At the time, we examined Hester's intention to have a "breakout year" as a receiver and all but wrote off the possibility that the could resurrect himself as a returner.
August 8, 2010: "To this point, Hester has been a productive but hardly spectacular receiver. In truth, there are only a handful of receivers around the league who change the way opposing defenses play. To me, that's the level Hester would need to ascend to make this a win-win proposition for the Bears."

What ultimately took place was a perfect marriage of Hester's goals and skills. He played a complementary role on offense, finishing fourth on the team with 40 receptions, but reclaimed his throne as the most dangerous special-teams player in the game.

As the chart shows, Hester's average of 17.09 yards per punt return set a new single-season NFL record. He also averaged 35.6 yards on 12 kickoff returns while rotating with Danieal Manning. As the season concluded, opponents were once again punting out of bounds or squibbing their kickoffs to avoid giving him legitimate opportunities.

In fact, Hester's returns -- which also included three touchdowns -- were the biggest factor in the Bears finishing atop Football Outsiders' 2010 rankings of special teams.

Last summer, it seemed the Bears were prepared to sacrifice Hester's threat as a returner in order to get a bigger payoff on offense. As it turned out, the opposite was true. They were content to grant him a contributing role in the offense so they could reap maximum rewards on special teams.

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