Over on our still-churning Facebook page, Justin offers evidence that some of you have a better mental catalogue of this blog's archives than me.
Justin pointed out this 2011 post on Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, compared it to this week's discussion on Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson and wrote: "Kevin, you care to explain why you seem more open (though I will say, still cautious of the prospect) to the possibility of a returner getting HOF consideration than you do towards a kicker??"
It's a fair question, but to be clear, I don't think that the role of kick returner is more important than the kicker (or punter) himself. If anything, Hester would seem to have a better (if incremental) chance of enshrinement than Hanson.
Hall of Fame voters, of course, have been almost as stingy on pure kickers (one) as returners (none) in their history. My point on Hester, in 2011, was that he had obliterated the NFL record for touchdown returns by the time he was 29 years old, making him the best at that role in NFL history. We also expanded the discussion to highlight his obvious impact on the Bears' field position after all the big returns that didn't end in scores.
A similar evaluation would have to be performed on any place-kicker or punter under the kind of consideration we were giving Hester at the time. How much did a kicker or punter impact the offense and defense, on top of the points he scored on special teams? That double value seems an unfortunate but realistic perquisite for any specialist -- returner, place-kicker or punter -- to be enshrined.
To be fair, this isn't entirely an apples-to-apples conversation. You can make a really sound argument that Hester was and is the best returner in NFL history. Would anyone suggest that Hanson is the top place-kicker of all time? He is one of the best of his generation, which is usually good enough at other positions, but in the case of a rarely considered specialist, it probably falls short.
So in the end, there are some parallels to the two posts. Based on history, Hester and Hanson don't have much of a chance to make the Hall of Fame. The same goes for all returners and place-kickers. Legitimate consideration makes sense to me, however, if the specialist brings not only all-time performance statistics but also layered impact to other areas of the game that extends beyond those individual numbers.