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Instant Debate

He might be NFL's top return man, but is Hester a top 40 player?

The Bears' Devin Hester came in at No. 32 on NFL Network's list of the "Top 100 Players of 2011." While his contemporaries around the league obviously think highly of Hester's big-play ability, should a player primarily known as a kick returner be ranked that high?

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  • Jason La Canfora NFL Network
  • Too many other good players

This, to me, is a stretch. If we're basing 2010 production as a major category for inclusion, then I don't see him being nearly this high.

  <table align="right" width="315px"> 
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  </table> Top 100 talent? Sure. Top 100 skill set? Yep.  

Hester is a game-breaker and a truly unique player. Even still, he certainly was not among the game's elite wide receivers last season, and, with him so heavily invested in the offense now, his prowess on special teams was muted.

He's capable of amazing things with the ball in his hands, but if you're letting me start a football team there are certainly more than just 31 players I would select before Hester.

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Teams must scheme for his talents

There's no problem ranking a returner that high if that returner is Hester. He took three punt returns to the house last season and he averaged nearly 36 yards per kick return. He is a game-changer. Teams scheme for him, mostly how to avoid him. That is remarkable for a returner. I don't see how there is any argument with him being ranked here -- unless it is too low.

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  • Pat Kirwan
  • Overall numbers don't justify status

Hester is a rare athlete who should be on this list for being the greatest return man in the history of the NFL. He owns the NFL record with 14 combined return touchdowns in just five seasons. However, his 2010 total of 40 receptions is pedestrian. He touched the ball 92 times for 1,496 yards, which is an impressive average of 16.3 yards per touch. Still, considering he averaged 35.6 yards on only 12 kickoffs, he should have been used in that aspect even more. He should have been ranked in the 75-90 range of the Top 100.

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  • Bucky Brooks
  • No denying Hester's impact

Hester absolutely deserves to be this high on the list because he is one of the league's biggest-impact players. While the kicking game is often dismissed, it has a substantial impact on field position and, in turn, the offense and defense. Hester produced 10 returns over 40 yards last season, including three scores on punt returns. His robust averages of 17.1 yards per punt return and 35.6 yards per kick return reveal his ability to make his presence felt. He's also the all-time leader in return scores. Hester's ranking is not only deserved, but it accurately reflects how pivotal he is to the Bears.

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  • Vic Carucci
  • Voters went overboard

It's so easy to get caught up in Hester's unique skill set, and I'm afraid that's exactly what happened with this vote. A player who can change the course of a game in an instant and who caused the entire league to place greater value on return specialists merits tremendous respect and admiration. But I'm afraid, in this case, voters have gone a little overboard. Any player who shows up in the top 50, let alone the top 40, should contribute at a consistently high level at a regular position rather than making the bulk of his impact as a specialist. It is the same argument that is commonly heard in opposition to a specialist being inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Deion Sanders, who headlines Canton's Class of 2011, is one of the greatest returners of all time ... but he also is one of the best cornerbacks the game has ever seen.

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  • Elliot Harrison
  • Not top-40 material

I can't in good faith put Devin Hester in the top 40. He is the best returner the game has ever seen, but if Hester belongs that high, then Raiders punter Shane Lechler should be in the top 70 or so. He affects the game every bit as much as Hester does on special teams. Yes, Hester is a wide receiver as well, but a strictly average one. As great as he is as a returner, his influence on the game is not comparable to some of the players who were in the bottom 50, like LaMarr Woodley.

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