Yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens made it official and signed future Hall of Fame kick returner Devin Hester to a one-year contract after Hester worked out with the team twice over the weekend. His signing really does not come at that much of a surprise considering the fact Kaelin Clay, Michael Campanaro and Keenan Reynolds did not do much at all to win the return duties competition all throughout camp.
Yes, this isn't the Devin Hester from a decade ago. Heck, this isn't even the Devin Hester from three years ago when he led the NFL in kickoff return yards (1,442). This Devin Hester is 33, turning 34 in November and is much older and slower than the other options the Ravens had. However, he's also their best and most reliable option. Clay fell out of favor with the team after he fumbled a punt a few weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers, and also injured his foot. Campanaro can’t stay healthy, and Reynolds isn't ready yet. So, what can the Ravens expect from the soon-to-be 34 year old return specialist who is arguably the greatest at his position?
While last year did not fare well for Hester during his final season with the Atlanta Falcons as he missed the majority of the 2015 season with a turf toe injury, he did notch 972 kickoff return yards in 2014 and averaged 24.3 yards per return. However, he only had 238 yards on punt returns and 1 touchdown. As a matter of fact, he's only had two return touchdowns since 2012.
Hester does still possess his defining ability to make plays, but in addition to his age, Hester is still coming off a turf toe injury. He had surgery in January. The Ravens hope that his two workouts and his passed physical means Hester is behind his injury. We won't truly know until we see him on the field.
If Hester is healthy, I believe he will produce as the team's primary return specialist with the best of his ability at this stage of his career and could possibly bring back memories of former return man Jacoby Jones. If Hester struggles because of his health and father time, the Ravens might have to go to extreme measures to find a return specialist as the season moves along.