Is Devin Hester a Hall of Famer? Brian Urlacher says '100 percent'

Devin Hester had 19 career touchdown returns in his eight seasons with the Bears. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Devin Hester's release from the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday should not diminish what the most dynamic return man in NFL history accomplished through 10 NFL seasons.

The four-time Pro Bowler, who holds the NFL record with 20 touchdown returns, told ESPN.com he wants to continue playing coming off toe surgery. Hester has strong ties to Arizona Cardinals wide receivers coach Darryl Drake and Kansas City Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, his former coaches with the Chicago Bears.

Whenever he officially hangs up his cleats, there will be a burning question regarding his career: Is Hester a Hall of Famer?

Brian Urlacher, Hester’s former Bears teammate, offered a simple response.

"100 percent," Urlacher said Tuesday. "He’s the best ever at his position and changed the game plan for every special-teams coach he played against."

We’ll see if the decision-makers eventually agree with Urlacher.

"I think the doors of the Hall of Fame are starting to open up for specialists, and they should," said respected veteran NFL writer Dan Pompei, a Hall of Fame voter the past 10 years. "Devin Hester is the Ray Guy of return men. Whenever he fielded a punt or returned a kick, he was the best player on the field -- usually by far. He changed games and dominated opponents. To me, that says he deserves strong consideration for the Hall of Fame."

Hester, 33, set the NFL record for touchdown returns with an electrifying, 62-yard punt return for the Falcons in a September 2014 win against his former coach, Lovie Smith, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hester high-stepped his way to the end zone with his mentor, Deion Sanders, watching from the sideline as Sanders' previous mark fell.

"Yes, absolutely," Smith said of Hester becoming a Hall of Famer. "When you are the best to ever play that position in the NFL, you should end up in the Hall of Fame. He changed the way the game was played."

Hester indeed struck fear in opponents when he burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2006. He had a dramatic, 83-yard punt return touchdown that helped the Bears escape Arizona with a 24-23 comeback win and led to the late Dennis Green's famous rant: "The Bears are who we thought they were ... and we let them off the hook."

Then Hester reached legendary status later that season by returning the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a score. The Bears eventually lost to the Colts.

Although Hester had just one return score during his short stint with the Falcons, his teammates believe he was Hall of Fame worthy even before setting the return record. Hester has a record 14 punt return scores, five kickoff return scores and a touchdown return following a missed field goal attempt.

"Yes, he should be in the Hall of Fame," former Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. "Dev’s one of the best teammates I have had and been around. He’s a scoreboard changer. He’s a great dad, and he stays in the community helping kids.

"The man can flat out play football."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, now in his second season, didn’t get a chance to experience Hester at his finest. Quinn, however, has been around long enough to appreciate the impact Hester has had on the game.

"I think you have to think [he's a Hall of Famer] based on the number of returns," Quinn said. "I know, at times, a specialist has had a hard time. Like Steve Tasker hasn't yet.

"Devin is the leader in touchdowns with 20. Any time you do something at the best, I think you've got to have consideration."

Hester will be eligible for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires.