Spotlight: Devin Hester

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 7th


Jason Wood's thoughts

If there's one thing fantasy owners seem to agree on, it's that SOMEONE from the Bears receiving corps will be a fantasy commodity this year. Mike Martz has taken over as the offensive coordinator, and he brings an unbridled appetite for throwing the ball in any down or distance. With Martz calling the plays, and a young strong-armed gunslinger under center (Jay Cutler), there's plenty of reason to think one or two of these WRs are going to have a breakout fantasy season. Yet, there's very little agreement on which WR stands the best chance to break away from the pack.

Entering training camp, the Bears have 10 receivers on the roster:

  • Johnny Knox
  • Devin Hester
  • Earl Bennett
  • Rashied Davis
  • Devin Aromashodu
  • Juaquin Iglesias
  • Eric Peterman
  • Freddie Barnes
  • Antonio Robinson
  • Greg Matthews

Peterman, Barnes, Robinson and Matthews are street free agents and have very little chance of making the 53-man roster. Which really leaves six players vying for five spots on the active roster. By way of comparison, here are the vital statistics for each member of this sextet:

Bears Top Six Receivers: Career Stats (Sorted by Career Receptions)

First Last Age Height Weight Gms Recs Yds YPR TDs
Devin Hester 27 5\'10\" 185 60 128 1721 13.45 8
Rashied Davis 31 5\'10\" 180 76 79 948 12.00 4
Earl Bennett 23 6\'1\" 205 26 54 717 13.28 2
Johnny Knox 23 6\'0\" 185 15 45 527 11.71 5
Devin Aromashodu 26 6\'2\" 202 16 31 394 12.71 4
Juaquin Iglesias 23 6\'0\" 204 1 0 0 - 0

The first thing that should jump out at you is the collective inexperience of this group. Devin Hester is the most accomplished and yet is only 27 years old, and has played receiver on a full-time basis for just two seasons. Rashied Davis (the elder statesman at 31 years old) is second on the team with 76 grabs, but is widely expected to be the odd man out when final cuts occur. Three of the remaining four are just 23 years old. And then there's Devin Aromashodu.

The Myth of Aromashodu
Few players intrigue me as much as Aromashodu this year. In spite of only 31 career receptions, Aromashodu has become the odds on favorite among fantasy pundits to be Jay Cutler's new star receiver. He's being drafted 37th among WRs, higher than both Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The most common argument in support of Aromashodu is that he really came on strong late in the season and now that the Bears know what they have, he'll be impossible to keep off the field. I also frequently hear about how this guy was "waiting in the wings" for his chance. And I also hear people refer to him as a "young receiver ready for a breakout." Let's take a look at each of these assertions individually:

1) He really came on strong late in 2009 - After a whopping 2 receptions through Week 11, he caught 22 receptions for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns in Weeks 13 through 16. Pro rating those stats over a full 16-game season = 88 receptions for 1,128 yards and 16 TDs. Hence, everyone's excitement. Compelling numbers? To be sure. But realize something. 1) He averaged less than 10 yards per reception in all but an anomalous game vs. Minnesota, when he had a long 39-yard TD reception on a broken play, in overtime. 2) In those four games, Devin Hester was a non factor as he was rehabbing a calf injury.
2) He was "waiting in the wings" for a chance - NFL personnel executives aren't perfect. If they were Ryan Leaf wouldn't have been the 2nd overall pick and Tom Brady wouldn't have been a 6th rounder. But Aromashodu was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 7th round, and cast aside. He then latched on with Indianapolis, and was cast aside. Then he sat on the bench in Chicago, in spite of the lack of elite WRs, until he got a chance at a few weeks of PT. How many 7th rounders who end up on three teams in four years do YOU know who end up as stars?
3) He is a young receiver ready for a breakout - Aromashodu is 26 years old. That's not old, by any stretch, but that makes him three years older than Bennett, Iglesias or Johnny Knox, and only a year younger than Devin Hester.

Could Aromashodu be the big winner of the Martz offense? It's possible. But I see a guy who had a bit of a fluky few big weeks and really wonder why folks are so blindly willing to jump on his bandwagon. He couldn't stick on two prior teams, he didn't sniff the field until Devin Hester got hurt last year, and the new coaching staff hasn't given him minutes as a starter in OTAs or training camp. If he's not running with the 1s now, why is he coming off the board before anyone else? Because he's taller than the other guys? Because he outweighs them?

Coin Toss: Knox and Hester
For as nonplussed as I find the argument in favor of Aromashodu, I can see the logic in either Johnny Knox or Devin Hester being the star of this new offense. And after careful deliberation, I've come to terms with the idea that it could go either way. As fantasy owners, your goal should be to come out of your draft with one of them, and then hope you picked the right guy. In deeper leagues, I could see drafting both, because you can always drop or trade one of them in the early weeks...which we all generally have to do with some of our bench players anyway as the waiver wire heats up. Currently Knox is being drafted 38th (right behind Aromashodu) and Hester is coming off the board two rounds later at WR43.

Why Knox could be the man - Footballguys own Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom profiled Johnny Knox when he was an off-the-radar college prospect out of Abilene Christian. The Bears must have seen the same thing from Knox and drafted him in the 5th round last year. Most expected him to intern for a season or two but the Bears' cupboard was bare and Knox saw time immediately. In the majority of games he was a fantasy non-factor (only 2 games with 10+ fantasy points), but he consistently got targets, and looked the part. This offseason, Knox has been the top target and has consistently run with the 1st unit. He's the most polished WR on the roster, and may be the fastest to boot. Either way, he need only continue his current trajectory to be a focal point of Martz' play-calling.

Why Hester could be the man - A lot of people forget that Devin Hester was neither fish nor fowl coming out of college. He was drafted as a work-in-progress, taken more for his off the charts athleticism and instincts than his polish. In his early seasons, Hester established himself as one of the league's best return men. But the Bears weren't content with that, and neither was Hester. After playing some WR three seasons ago, the Bears committed to Hester as a WR in 2008. A quick look at his 2008-2009 numbers shows that he hit a plateau, but therein lies your opportunity. He didn't really plateau, because Hester only played in 13 games last year and missed chunks of a few more. On a per game basis, Hester was a better player, even though he was nicked up and still learning the position.

This year, like Knox, he has been running with the first team from the first snap of OTAs through the first week of training camp. His offensive coaches have given no indication he won't continue to be a starter. Yet, he's inexplicably being drafted 3rd among Bears WRs. Some are concerned that Hester isn't a precise route runner and Martz requires that of his receivers. But those critics haven't watched how hard Hester has worked at his craft. Look at the game film. His route running has improved by leaps and bounds from just two seasons ago. And this offseason he worked one-on-one with Isaac Bruce, who was one of Mike Martz' key cogs in St. Louis. Hester may not outperform Knox, but he certainly could particularly because he's such a dynamic open field runner. Remember that Hester averaged 5.2 yards-after-the-catch (YAC) last year [versus Knox' respectable but less impressive 3.4 YAC]. Either way, he's earned plenty of targets.

Bennett and Iglesias can't be completely discarded. Both are young (23), both have skills to build on, and both are inexpensive options to keep on the end of the roster. Neither are getting enough work in the preseason to think they'll have a chance to dazzle this year, but with injuries, the door might open for them. More likely, they'll continue to hone their craft and get a chance to latch on with another team in a more prominent role in 2011 or beyond.

Positives

  • Hester was leading the Bears in receiving before hurting his calf and missing a good chunk of the final month and a half
  • Just two years into his career as a full-time WR, Hester has shown demonstrable improvement in every facet of his craft. And he worked with Isaac Bruce intensively this offseason to master Martz' system
  • Hester is a beast in the open field, and can hit the home run as long as Jay Cutler can get the ball in his hands

Negatives

  • Hester is the smallest of the Bears receivers, and hasn't yet mastered route-running to the level of precision one normally associates with Mike Martz' star receivers
  • Whether it's his size or his playing style, Hester has missed playing time in the past
  • Hester has yet to crack the Top 40 fantasy WRs in a season, which argues this is probably a make or break year given the trio of 23-year olds waiting in the wings

Final thoughts

Devin Hester has has been in the NFL for four seasons and has yet to crack the Top 40 in year end fantasy rankings. He's also the smallest receiver on the roster, has seen his value as a return man diminish, and still needs polish on his technique. But the great news is his ADP assumes all of that and worse, yet fails to account for the massive upside opportunity he's going to enjoy this year. Mike Martz has turned the likes of Mike Furrey into fantasy gold. Meanwhile Hester has only really been a wide receiver for two+ seasons. We've seen steady growth, and now he'll be the recipient of Mike Martz' maniacal yet productive play calls. Hester worked with Isaac Bruce on his route running and technique, has been praised from start to finish by the coaches, and has run with the 1st team alongside Johnny Knox all preseason. Don't be surprised if Hester gets 100-120 targets this year, which could mean a 900-1,000 yard season and solid fantasy WR2/WR3 potential. He's worth a flier, for sure.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

Seems wrong that this spotlight is getting overlooked. Guy is a great fit for a Martz system and should be fully converted going into his 4th season as a WR. Just in his 3rd season he was loking great with a new QB. In his first 8 games he put up 41/538/3 (13.4 ypr). Extrapolate that and you've got 82/1076/6. Those would've been some solid numbers. Trying to guess what he'll do in a totally new offense is a fool's task but I'll give it a go... I like that extrapolation as a floor for this year (assuming he stays healthy for 16 games - not a stretch for a WR) but I don't feel like that is a good starting point for projecting a guy in a new system. In 2006 Mike Furrey put up 98/1086/6 (11.1 ypr) with Kitna throwing him the ball. In 2007 Shaun McDonald put up 78/943/6 (11.9 ypr) as WR3 behind Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson (rookie year/back injury he played thru). I think Hester is more talented than both so I'm upping his ypr but don't feel comfortable getting too close to Furrey's 98 rec, although it wouldn't surprise me. I should also note that Roy Williams put up 82/1310/7 (16.0 ypr) in 2006 opposite Furrey.

90 rec x 13 ypc = 1170 yards 8 TD

Seems kind of crazy for a guy currently going WR47 (for those PPR guys, I'm referring to the non-PPR ADP). But this is with me expecting him to be the WR1 on that team and Aromashodu not being as much of an impact as everyone else seems to be expecting. Although, in 2007 Furrey put up 61/664/1 as apparently the 4th option so there is room for everyone to get a piece here.

rzrback77 said:

Devin Hester is without doubt an intriguing prospect for 2010. He is entering his fourth season playing as a WR and has shown improvement each year. The Bears added Jay Cutler a year ago as their starting QB and although he disappointed in 09, there are reasons for optimism for 2010 and beyond.

Chicago featured three WRs with similar targets a year ago. Hester had the most success, but all three were closely grouped and a fourth, Devin Aromashodu played very well down the stretch. Looking forward the Bears have hired Coach Martz as the offensive coordinator and his scheme seems to be something that Cutler could excel in. Similarly, Hester seems to be a good fit. I think that he will continue to show improvement in 2010 and there is a potential there that he could vastly exceed his draft slot. Hester currently is being drafted at WR 47 and 134 overall. If the Martz scheme succeeds in getting Hester free in space, there could be the long gains that many expected when he initially shifted out to WR.

In fact, though Hester's catch percentage has improved every season, from 52.6% in 07 up to 62.6% last year, his ypc has gone the other way, from 14.9 in 07 down to 13.3 last year. I look for both numbers to rise slightly in 2010. The projections below would provide extreme value for such a late pick and in my opinion, there is potential for even more success.

renesauz said:

That "experiment" was very succesful at the beginning of last season. I happen to think Hester is being criminally overlooked, and I'm scooping him up everywhere I can. I fuly expect him to be the #1 in Chicago and put up fantasy #2/3 numbers. Something along the lines of 75/1000/6. Not a stud, but far more then an "average NFL WR".


Devin Hester projections

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