Setting the Bar for the 2012 Chicago Bears: Devin Hester

Dec 4, 2011; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (23) makes a catch over Kansas City Chiefs free safety Kendrick Lewis (23) during the second half at Soldier Field. The Chiefs defeated the Bears 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

This is one of the Setting the Bar series that I’ve been looking forward to becauseDevin Hester has the potential to blow up for a monster season or the potential to fade into anonymity as a pass catcher.  When Hester broke into the league in 2006, the Bears drafted him as a cornerback.  OK, let’s face it, they drafted him as a return man, but his listed position was cornerback.  In fact, I remember a late season game at Detroit where Hester had a key pass defensed to preserve a narrow 26-21 victory.

Ever since that magical 2006 season, the Bears have been trying to find ways to get the ball into hands as much as possible, so much so that they proclaimed him their #1 wide receiver and paid him accordingly back in 2008.  Seeing the offseason moves by new GM Phil Emery, he disagrees with that assessment of Hester, but there’s still a lot of potential for #23 in the Bears newly revamped offense.

To know where we’re going, we should look at where we’ve been.  Here’s a snapshot of Devin Hester’s career numbers as a wide receiver:

Hester notched his best season as a wide receiver in Jay Cutler’s first season with the club in 2009 when he racked up 757 yards on 57 catches including 3 touchdowns.   His completions and yardage have been nosediving since, which could be the result of Mike Martz’s offense, the emergence of fellow pass catcher Johnny Knox or addition of a stud wide receiver like Roy Williams in 2011.

One of the biggest surprises from OTA’s was Brandon Marshall’s proclamation that Hester could have a bigger year than him.  I don’t know if I buy that, but I do think that Hester will benefit from moving inside into the slot and the supposed “Devin Hester Package” of plays that they’re setting up to put him in a position to succeed.

With Brandon Marshall commanding double team, Hester could be free to roam around underneath and get the ball in space, where he can do some damage.

One of the big questions facing the Bears offense is who starts opposite Marshall.  Hester, Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery all figure to see time alongside Marshall, but it’s unclear how the snaps will shake out.  I expect that Hester will be the third receiver, with the more reliable Bennett getting more time opposite Marshall.  Hester will see a fair amount of action in the slot.  Can he be the next Wes Welker?  Not so fast.

I’m Setting the Bar for Devin Hester’s 2012 season as 50 catches, 700 yards and 4 TD’s as a wide receiver.  I think we’d all be happy with those numbers as long as they’re not leading the Bears wideouts.

Just for fun, let’s also take a look at what Hester has been doing in the return game.  Here are his career (and record setting) stats as a returner:

Punt Returns Kick Returns
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Ret Yds TD Lng Y/R Rt Yds TD Lng Y/Rt APYd AV
2006*+ 24 CHI PR 23 16 0 47 600 3 84 12.8 20 528 2 96 26.4 1128 5
2007*+ 25 CHI KR/PR 23 16 0 42 651 4 89 15.5 43 934 2 97 21.7 1874 8
2008 26 CHI PR/WR 23 15 8 32 198 0 25 6.2 31 679 0 51 21.9 1603 6
2009 27 CHI PR/WR 23 13 12 24 187 0 33 7.8 7 156 0 44 22.3 1099 7
2010*+ 28 CHI PR/WR 23 16 13 33 564 3 89 17.1 12 427 0 79 35.6 1496 7
2011 29 CHI WR 23 16 8 28 454 2 82 16.2 33 723 1 98 21.9 1540 6
Career 92 41 206 2654 12 89 12.9 146 3447 5 98 23.6 8740 39
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2012.

The Bears invested heavily in Special Teams this offseason, getting a lot of role players that can be returners and also should continue the proud Dave Toub tradition for covering and returning kicks.  I suppose they were getting insurance for injured kick returner Johnny Knox or in case Hester is busy besting Brandon Marshall’s predictions for a career year on offense.

For Hester’s 2012 return stats, I’m Setting the Bar at 3 punt return TD’s and no kick return touchdowns.

What do you think?  Will Hester meet those expectations?  Can he finally have that breakout season that we’ve been hoping for or at least get back to a serviceable #2/#3 wide receiver in a big boy offense?  Can Devin continue to add on to his NFL record returns or will it be another drought like he had in ’08 and ’09?

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