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Former Falcons returner Devin Hester, coach Bryant Young among 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists

Arguably the greatest returner in NFL history, Hester’s probably getting in at some point.

NFL: JAN 03 Saints at Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For a long, long time, the only players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who spent any time with the Falcons were ones who just passed through. It’s only in recent years that the likes of the great Claude Humphrey, Morten Andersen, Deion Sanders and Tony Gonzalez, who all spent significant time with Atlanta, have gotten into Canton.

Devin Hester and Bryant Young have more in common with Chris Doleman and Eric Dickerson, who just passed through Atlanta, than they do with the names above. We’ll start with Hester.

He was only in Atlanta for two seasons back in 2014 and 2015, but those two seasons only added to his Hall of Fame-caliber career, as he memorably scored the last return touchdown the Falcons have managed and wound up putting together some memorable games as both a runner and receiver. Now Hester is among 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2022, and given both his stellar career and the fun times he brought to Atlanta, we’re rooting hard for him to get in.

Hester’s resume is pretty great. He’s 12th all-time in kick return yardage—just behind Cordarrelle Patterson, actually—and tied for 9th in kick return touchdowns, and stands at 3rd all-time in punt return yards, 1st by a full four touchdowns for punt return scores and 8th in yards per punt return. It’d be difficult to quibble with the idea that he’s the greatest punt returner in NFL history and one of the better kick returners, and he also chipped in 255 receptions, 3,311 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of his career. The Hall of Fame should have a spot for someone who was the best ever at what he did and very good at a number of other things, and I think Hester’s case is strong.

He did some of that damage in Atlanta. Signed in 2014 as part of a big spending spree offseason in a doomed year, Hester was an effective receiver for a so-so offense, putting up 38 receptions, 504 yards and two touchdowns. He also chipped in six carries for 36 yards and his lone career rushing touchdown that year. Of course, he was signed primarily for his return prowess, and he put together a sterling 13.3 yards per punt return and scored a touchdown, and also led the NFL in kick returns and kick return yardage. While not much about 2014 was anything to write home about, Hester delivered in a major way. He would unfortunately play in just five games in 2015, however.

Bryant Young was a stellar defender for a very long time. He spent his entire 208 game career spanning well over a decade with the 49ers, putting up 89.5 sacks and twice chipping in 11 sack seasons. He was an instrumental piece of some very good San Francisco defenses along the way and one of the most respected men in that locker room for a long, long while.

Young also became a coach after his playing career wrapped up, which brought him to Atlanta in 2017. He was the team’s defensive line coach in 2017 and 2018, trying to wrangle the best out of players like Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley, before stepping down in March 2019 to spend more time with his family. Takk, Adrian Clayborn and Jack Crawford all had career high sacks in a single season while Young was coaching them up.

Here’s the full list of finalists. It features plenty of players who tormented the Falcons over the years, including Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber, the great Rams receiver Torry Holt, and 49ers greats Patrick Willis and Young. We’re rooting hard for Hester and Young to make it into the Hall of Fame.

Who do you think will make it from this list?

  • Jared Allen
  • Willie Anderson
  • Ronde Barber
  • Tony Boselli
  • LeRoy Butler
  • Devin Hester
  • Torry Holt
  • Andre Johnson
  • Sam Mills
  • Richard Seymour
  • Zach Thomas
  • DeMarcus Ware
  • Reggie Wayne
  • Patrick Willis
  • Bryant Young