As some of you may remember, I have contributed a few statistical posts to BTSC over the years, and last year I started a blog called Checking the Numbers while I was looking for a new job. Well, as of 3 months ago, I have a job again, so I'm too busy to keep a blog going on a regular basis. However, I should have time now and then to work on some posts for BTSC. Recently, Michael suggested the possibility of a post comparing Hines Ward and Derrick Mason's numbers, so I decided to take a look at them. In many ways, they seem to be similar WRs, although I don't think that Mason is known league wide for his blocking. He may be fine blocking WR, but we all know how Ward is viewed in that aspect.
Hines Ward Decks Ed Reed (via Clubpenguin111)
As we'll see below, their yearly receiving yardage numbers are extraordinarily similar, and if you look on their pages on Pro-Football-Reference.com, you'll see that each is the other's first player listed in the "Similar Players" Career list. In addition, both have played their entire careers on teams known for valuing a strong running game and strong defense. With that said, let's start looking at the statistical comparison.
First, I have two tables below that show Ward's and Mason's yearly receiving yardage for their careers.
|Hines Ward||Derrick Mason|
|Year||Receptions||Rec Yards||Year||Receptions||Rec Yards|
*Pro Bowl years, +First-Team All-Pro
Just a glance shows that those reception and yardage numbers are remarkably similar. If one were going by receiving yardage over the course of their careers, you would be hard-pressed to argue a serious difference between Ward and Mason. So, we need to look further (which we would anyway, of course) to see if there are more specifics that separate one from the other. The next four tables show summaries of Ward's and Mason's career honors and both players' career totals for receiving, rushing, and total yards from scrimmage.
|First Team All-Pro||0||1|
|Top Ten Rec||4||4|
|Top Ten Rec Yds||3||1|
|Top Ten Rec TDs||3||1|
|Top Ten Yds/Gm||2||2|
|Career AV Rank*||309||324|
This table shows a comparison of the honors received by each player. It's pretty close, overall, with a slight edge for Ward in terms of Pro Bowls and top ten finishes in receiving yards and TDs. He also has the slight edge in Career AV (Average Value). Mason has the only First Team All-Pro selection, but Hines Ward has the only Super Bowl MVP.
These three tables show summaries of their receiving, rushing and total from scrimmage statistics. Here is where, I believe, Hines Ward begins to separate himself as the superior football player. There isn't a large difference in career numbers, but Mason has played for one season longer than Ward. Unlike Ward, Mason is virtually non-existent at a rushing threat, and Hines Ward has 20 more career TDs (19 TD receptions) and 6 fewer fumbles than Mason. In addition, it was a full three years before Mason became a starting WR with the Titans. During that time (in fact, his first five years), Mason saw significant time at KR/PR. However, his only really outstanding season returning kicks was 2000, which was also his first year starting at WR and his one First Team All-Pro selection. While his return numbers certainly dwarf Ward's return numbers, it is also standard practice for teams to keep important starters out of the return game to reduce the risk of injury. So, it would seem that the Ward was more valued by Bill Cowher early in his career than Mason was by Jeff Fisher.
In my opinion, the numbers shown so far only give Ward a slight edge, with the biggest difference being his advantage in the TD category. But, there is one statistical area where Ward pretty clearly outshines Mason. Next we'll take a look at a comparison of their respective playoff numbers. This link is a query showing which players have more than 200 total playoff receiving yards since 1995.
On that list, Hines Ward is ranked 2nd behind only Reggie Wayne. Mason is ranked 21st. While Mason has appeared in one more playoff game in his career, Ward has nearly twice as many receiving yards, four times as many TDs, nearly 30 more receptions, and nearly 2 more yards per reception. As I argued almost a year ago, Ward has really raised his game in the playoffs. When the stakes have been the highest, he has excelled. As I that post showed, Hines compares very favorably with current HOFers in playoff performance, particularly on a per game basis.
From the numbers that I have looked at here, I think it's pretty clear that Hines Ward is superior to Derrick Mason. There is really only one other aspect that I thought of that also seems to solidify that assessment. Although the Steelers have drafted WRs in the first round a couple of times during Ward's career, they have never made moves that would indicate that Ward is becoming expendable to them. Derrick Mason left the Titans as an unrestricted free agent. I don't know if they made a significant effort to keep him, but they certainly didn't see him as indispensible. Ward has always been extended with a year left on his contract. At least to the Steelers front office, he has been treated as a highly valued part of the organization his entire career. That has been true of Mason in recent years with the Ravens, particularly when he discussed retirement. However, this past offseason, after re-signing Mason to a 2 year deal, the Ravens have traded for Anquan Boldin and added TJ Houshmandzadeh, who was released by the Seahawks. Trading for Boldin certainly makes sense, as he's been one of the top 5 WRs in the NFL for number of years now. But Houshmandzadeh serves essentially the same purpose as Mason. He's a possession receiver with great hands over the years.
In the end, Hines Ward should be counted one of the historic NFL players. His blocking has become legendary, spurring a rules change to protect defensive players. As far as I know, he is the only WR in NFL history to cause a rule change designed to protect his opponent rather than himself. He will certainly go down as one of the all time great Steelers. Derrick Mason will go down as one of the top 20-30 WRs in NFL history in terms of receptions, yards and TDs, but neither the Titans nor the Ravens are likely to view him as one of their all time great players.