The Falcons have activated receiver and return man Devin Hester from IR-DTR, sending wideout Leonard Hankerson to season-ending injured reserve in a corresponding move, the team announced today in a press release. Hester’s next snap will be his first this season, as a toe injury has sidelined him for the year until now.
Hester, 33, earned his fourth Pro Bowl berth last year in his first season with the Falcons, after leading the league in kick return yardage and punt return average. However, the team determined in early October that he needed to be placed on IR with designation to return due to that toe injury. After having spent eight weeks on IR-DTR, this is the earliest he was eligible to return.
In Hester’s absence, Eric Weems has been Atlanta’s primary return man on both kickoffs and punts. While it’s not clear if Hester will immediately take over both of those roles, he’s one of the league’s all-time best returners, so he figures to see some action on special teams. Having caught 38 balls last year for Atlanta, he may also contribute on offense, particularly with Hankerson out.
Hankerson, who turns 27 next month, totaled 26 receptions for 327 yards and three touchdowns in his first season with the Falcons. He had been sidelined recently by a hamstring injury. Since he’s on a one-year contract, Hankerson may have played his last game for Atlanta, as he nears free agency for the second straight offseason.