The readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team
September 21, 2009: RETURN MAN
KICK RETURNER-Devin Hester (for now)
PUNT RETURNER-Devin Hester
In contention: Jerry Azumah, Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Ahmad Merritt, R.W. McQuarters, Glyn Milburn
With some positions on the readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team, the selection requires discussion, argument, statistical analysis, patience, rest, and gut. Others are obvious. But even in the obvious cases, it is best to go deeper into the numbers to balance the memories. Which is what we will do here with one of the greatest standouts at any position on this team: Devin Hester, return man extraordinaire.
KICK RETURN YARDS
Milburn-4596 on 192 returns
Azumah-2885 on 119
HESTER-2141 on 94
Nate Lewis-1778 on 77
Merritt-1434 on 65
KICK RETURN AVERAGE
Manning-28.8 (40 returns)
KICK RETURN TOUCHDOWNS
PUNT RETURN YARDS
HESTER-1449 on 121
McQuarters-983 on 93
Milburn-970 on 94
Leon Johnson-543 on 56
Bobby Wade-326 on 35
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE
PUNT RETURN TOUCHDOWNS
TOTAL RETURN NUMBERS
Milburn-286 total returns for 5566 yards (19.5 ypr) and 3 TD
HESTER-215 for 3590 (16.7) and 11 TD
Azumah-119 for 2885 (24.2) and 2 TD
Lewis-78 for 1785 (22.9)
Merritt-75 for 1505 (20.1)
Manning-40 for 1151 (28.8) and 1 TD
McQuarters-95 for 1029 (10.8) and 2 TD
So, after reviewing the numbers, is Hester still the obvious choice? We say yes. Glyn Milburn certainly put up fabulous numbers during his three and a half seasons in navy and orange. His 1998, 1999, and 2000 seasons were the top three marks, respectively, in the PD era for combined return yardage and kick return yardage in a single season. And in 1999, Milburn was a source of Chicago pride, the first Bear since Carrier, Dent, and Woolford in ’93 to earn a Pro Bowl nod, the first since Singletary in ’91 named 1st Team All Pro.
But as a scoring threat, no one in the PD era—and very few players in NFL history—touch Hester. ‘Anytime’ returned 11 kicks for scores in 2006 and 2007, 13 if you count the missed field goal and the Super Bowl return (14 if you count a return in the playoff game against Seattle that was called back on an illegal block).
As a punt returner in the PD era, Hester is without peer. Take a look at the top six single season marks for punt return yardage:
HESTER, 2007-651 yards on 42 returns, 4 TD
HESTER, 2006-600 on 47, 3 TD
McQuarters, 2003-452 on 37, 1 TD
McQuarters, 2004-435 on 44, 1 TD
Milburn, 1999-346 on 30, 0 TD
Wade, 2005-317 on 33, 1 TD
And while Milburn has more yards on kick returns, and while Manning, Azumah, Milburn, and Nate Lewis have higher return averages, Hester is most definitely a dynamic kick returner.
The question then, is this: are Milburn’s numbers and skills strong enough that the team needs to use two roster spots for guys who are exclusively returners? Our answer: probably not. It is unlikely that we would use Hester at wideout—with Berrian, Robinson, and Conway in the pool at receiver, we’ve got our deep threat—but it is even less likely that Milburn would be used on offense. (Hester’s offensive numbers of 84 touches for 1015 yards and three scores are much stronger than Milburn’s of 52, 324, and 1.)
And if Milburn is not being used on offense, then is his value as a kick returner alone greater than that of Azumah, Manning, or Berrian, all of whom could make the team at their other positions?
Milburn’s spot on the team will be determined through other needs. As great as he was, it looks for now that he will end up on the outside of our squad. Indeed, when Devin Hester’s back deep, who else do you need?
And, because you deserve it…