Faceoff: Devin Hester
Sigmund Bloom: Devin Hester is one of the few players that I can unequivocally recommend in every format at his current ADP. For some reason, a large part of the fantasy football world is overlooking a #1 WR on the upslope of his career in an offense custom built for big-time passing numbers.
There's plenty of evidence that Devin Hester will be the #1 receiver in Chicago this season. He was the #1 receiver going into last season and produced at an 80 catch pace before getting dinged up in the second half of the season. The initial news that new offensive coordinator Mike Martz wanted to move Hester to the slot was quickly overtaken by news that he would start at WR from all Bears sources, and most importantly, from what was observed during OTAs. Martz himself even confirmed Hester's starting role. Just this news alone, that Hester will be starting in a Mike Martz offense, should be enough to more than justify an ADP at least a round higher, but it gets better.
It is easy to forget that 2009 was Hester's first season as a starting WR. He was committed to improving this offseason, and did so by working with one of the all-time great Martz receivers, Isaac Bruce. Hester was mastering the "Z" position in the offense and absorbing the playbook as early as possible. In terms of a growth curve, Hester is much closer to the magic third year for WRs than the already established WR that his four years in the league would lead you to think he is. In other words, the Hester we see in week one should be an improved player from the one we saw take the field in the opening week of 2009.
The last piece of the puzzle is simply intuitive. The Martz offense emphasizes quickness, speed, and run after catch ability, which is right in Hester's wheelhouse. Quick, short throws that give the receiver a chance to do damage after the catch are exactly what can turn Hester in a PPR wonder, but still give him the yardage opportunities to make him valuable in non-PPR leagues, too.
No one should be shocked if Devin Hester finishes in the top 20 WR with 80+ catches and 1000+ yards. The talent, role, and commitment from the coaching staff to feature Hester are all in place for such a breakout. Judging by his ADP, many will be, but you can profit from that by including Hester in your draft plan this year.
Andy Hicks: It would be easy to look at Devin Hester's draft price and think he is value with the addition of a Mike Martz offense this season in Chicago. This season I doubt there will be mediocrity. It will either be a phenomenally great season or a complete bust for Hester. I'm leaning towards the latter. Unfortunately Hester is limited as a receiver, has rarely seen the end zone and if he does not adapt quickly will be passed over by the other young options in the Bears offense.
Mike Martz will be calling the plays for his 4th NFL franchise, with decreasing returns at each stop. Just because he is in Chicago does not guarantee elite fantasy production. The San Francisco offense in 2008 was average and did not produce a receiver outside an ancient Isaac Bruce worthy of fantasy production. Martz has also struck gold from totally unexpected sources in the past with Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey reaching WR2 status in Detroit, but with not a single wide receiver on the Chicago roster ever attaining the level of WR3, it would not shock at all to see unexpected sources this season. Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Juaquin Iglesias are all in the mix with Devin Hester and Martz will play the guys who are in the right spot at the right time.
The legendary thick playbook of the Martz offense places a great deal of trust between receivers and the quarterback. The receivers have to be in the right place at the right time and if a receiver runs the wrong route it is an almost certain turnover. Hester's route running has been average at best so far and I need to see him run these precise routes effectively before he lands on any of my squads. All of the guys behind Hester are young and more natural receivers, so if I had to take a chance on a Chicago receiver thriving I'd take Aromashodu and Knox over Hester for starters. Hester may be a better fit in the Az-Zahir Hakim position and aside from an 8 TD season in the greatest show on turf season in 1999, Hakim was never a reliable fantasy option. Hester also isn't the most physical receiver around and if he cannot get off the line of scrimmage on time then his chances in this offense are going to be limited.
It would be easy to see the Chicago depth chart and find the name Devin Hester at WR1 and think that is an automatic shot at fantasy success this season, but the situation is fluid right now and with Knox, Aromashodu and Bennett all displaying promise it would not surprise me in the least if we see Hester reduced to a minor role rather than the one those who expect him to be this years sleeper at WR are hoping for.