NFL Draft Head 2 Head: Jackson vs. Hester
Head 2 Head: Jackson vs. Hester
Head 2 Head: Jackson vs. Hester NFL Draft Analyst
Posted Apr 11, 2008

Imagine for a moment if Devin Hester was entering the NFL Draft this year. His main competition as a return specialist would be DeSean Jackson. The two players are comparable and have been a part of two of the best punt returns in NCAA history.’s Chris Steuber puts Jackson and Hester Head 2 Head, as if they are competing for draft positioning this year.

Jackson returns a 77-yard punt for a TD against Tennessee in 2007.
Courtesy of

Entering the NFL:
Height: 5-10
Weight: 169
Scouting Combine 40-time: 4.35
Pro Day 40-time: Did not run

When you look back on Jackson's career at California, you think of a dynamic offensive and special teams threat who had the ability to take it to the house any time he touched the ball. Jackson was a human highlight film and brought fans to their feet when he was back to receive a punt.

In a 14 - 14 game at the beginning of the second quarter, California forced Tennessee to punt from their own 35-yard line. Jackson received the punt on Cal's 23-yard line and completed one of the most athletic returns I've ever seen.

He eluded the first defender, received a nice block on the second defender, juked the third defender while his teammate blocked him, a fourth defender missed him, and the fifth defender didn't touch him as he performed a video game like backwards juke. Jackson successfully ran horizontally across the field without being touched and was home free as he got around the far end with no Tennessee players in sight. Jackson had a blocker in front of him, and as he made it into the end zone, he slapped him five and scored.

During his three-year college career, Jackson reached the endzone on six occasions - all coming on punt returns - and solidified himself as one of the most feared players in college football.

Not only was Jackson feared on special teams, he also starred on offense and was a premier deep threat who could stretch the field and provide instant offense. He amassed 162 receptions for 2,423 yards (15 yards per catch) and 22 touchdowns.

Jackson's best season as a WR was during his breakout sophomore campaign where he had 59 receptions for 1,060 yards (18 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns.

I'm not going to question Jackson's ability as a playmaker, because he's tremendous and electric. But the biggest concern I have in regards to Jackson is his slight stature. I'm curious to see how he translates to the NFL and adjusts to a much more physical game. It's great to have blazing speed and animal-like vision, but if you're unable to withstand the beating you're about to endure in a man's game, then you're worthless to NFL teams.

I don't think Jackson will have a major problem dealing with the physical aspect of the NFL, because he's been durable throughout his collegiate career. But he has to add bulk to his frame and get stronger to improve his ability to break tackles in the open field.



Hester returns a 71-yard punt for a TD against Duke back in 2005.
Courtesy of

Entering the NFL:
Height: 5-11
Weight: 190
Scouting Combine 40-time: 4.41
Pro Day 40-time:

The most incredible return I've ever seen took place when Miami played Duke in 2005. Hester fielded a punt at the Hurricanes 29-yard line and immediately split between two defenders. He juked out one, and the other was taken out by one of his teammates as he headed up field.

As he headed up field, a crowd of teammates and defenders formed around Hester as he improvised, spinning around in a circle as two defenders fell to the ground and another missed a tackle. Hester attempted a 360 spin with a defender on his back, shook the defender loose, broke another tackle with his momentum going backwards and was free to roam around the far end finally progressing past the 30-yard line.

Running horizontally across the field, Hester cut on a dime as two defenders were waiting. He split between them, but one of the defenders tried to wrap him up but failed. Hester paused, felt another defender coming, turned on the jets, escaped another defender's weak attempt to tackle him and was home free down the far sideline for a 71-yard touchdown.

Hester wasn't the accomplished, every down player that Jackson was in college, but he was just as explosive, if not more, in the return game. Hester's speed, vision and physical approach to the game altered the opposition's view of how to defend him, and a sense of fear was evident as they tried to punt the ball away from him.

During his illustrious career at Miami, Hester scored six touchdowns on special teams (four on punts, two on kicks) and was a situational offensive and defensive weapon for the Hurricanes.

Even though Hester wasn't an every down starter at Miami, he contributed on offense and defense. As a sophomore, Hester had an impact at the cornerback position in a limited role. He led the Hurricanes with four interceptions and displayed great instincts and ball skills.

It all starts with his vision. When he has the ball in his hands, whether it's on special teams, offense or defense, he immediately locates the seam and breaks through it. Another aspect of his game that's under-appreciated is his strength. At the Scouting Combine, Hester completed 16 reps of 225 pounds.

Hester's dynamic skill set separates him from many gamebreakers in the NFL. He has the complete package as a return man and could contribute on offense as a situational deep threat.


Jackson's not only a standout return specialist, he's also a dynamic receiver.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Jackson and Hester are special athletes who have the ability to change the face of a game on special teams. They're similar in style, but different in play.

Jackson is a finesse return specialist who does an outstanding job of juking and weaving his way out of trouble. He avoids contact at all costs and knows how to maneuver his body to elude a big hit. When he's in the clear and allows his blockers to set up in front of him, forget about it, because the defense is left trailing a bold, gold No. 1.

Hester's ability as a return man makes him intriguing, but can he play a position at the next level?
AP Photo/David Adame

Hester is a physical, shifty runner who has the uncanny ability to stop and start on a dime. He has tremendous vision and can get through the smallest crevices. His strength and balance are incredible, and he can escape the clutches of a defender with his slippery running style. He alters the game by his mere presence.

The fact is Jackson holds more value to a franchise because he's a combo player who can immediately make an impact on offense and special teams. Hester's potential as a return specialist is intriguing, but his inability to lock down a starting position on offense or defense is alarming.


A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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