As we hit a lull in the action this offseason, I thought I would revisit a topic we had a great amount of debate on earlier this year; whether Hines Ward should be in the hall of fame. This should be a series, and hopefully it will be done before the preseason starts.
I'm going to approach it a little bit differently though. As we all know Hines didn't play the majority of his career on a passing team, and his stats look smaller than other WR's because of it. So how should we compare Hines Ward playing for Kordel Stewart vs. C. Carter in his years with Moss in Minnesotta, or M. Harrison in Indy?
For this post I am going to look at receiver stats as a percentage of their teams passing offense. I wanted to place Hines next to his main competition from his era, and some HoF to see where Hines stands in a "Most valuable to his offense" receiver competition. The basic idea is that on the surface 1250 yrd, 13 TD season on a 5000 yd 50 TD offense looks better than an 1000 yrd, 10 TD season on a 2500 yrd 25 TD offense, because we don't look at the team numbers normally. Using my above hypothetical, the first is 25% of the teams passing offense, the second is 40%.
I'm not going to promote percentage of passing offense as the definitive test for a WR belonging in the HoF, I just wanted to compare how the stats look in a different light.
A little guide to the charts below: I'm going season by season through their careers, and the basic layout is player receptions, team receptions, player receptions as a Percentage of team receptions, then doing yards and TD's the same way. I'm not going to try to simplify it into a single number or career line, as that is misleading. I'm also not going to adjust the numbers for injuries, because injuries greatly effect HoF entrance, and your team performance without you also speaks to your value. I'm also not going to go through game logs and add up yardage by game to eliminate the games they missed.
On to the stats:
First Hines Wards career stats with team numbers and percentage. (I bolded the %s and italicized the team stats for easier browsing):
Hines was in his prime from 2001-2005 by this metric, recording over 30% of team receptions and yards. TD's we'll see are more erratic for all WR's, with this time period Hines varying between 20% and 52.6% of team passing TD's. In 2006 our team started passing a lot more, and Hines started dropping as a percentage of team passing offense. His value is still evident, but he would not dominate the offense like he did for that 5 year time period again.
Now let's look at some contemporaries of Hines who are in the HoF discussion, and see how Hines measures up.
Looking at the percentages, the advantage in raw stats that Owens has over Hines largely disappears. In receptions Hines wins hands down, Owens never accounted for 30% of his teams receptions, Hines did it for five straight years. In yards Owens still carries the advantage, he recorded a 41% year and eight times was 30% or higher. Hines was 30% or higher six times. As for TD's, TO has three 50%+ seasons to Hines two, seven 40%+ seasons to Hines four, and eleven 30%+ seasons to Hines six. T.O. was a dominant scoring threat and it shows in how many of his teams passing TD's were to him.
I'm hoping you didn't need this chart to know Randy Moss was a dominant receiver. Unlike Owens he did manage to post two 30% reception seasons (again 5 for Hines). He accounted for 30% of his teams passing yards seven times (Hines 6) and like Owens posted a 42% season. For TD's he hit 50% twice (Hines 2) 40%+ eight times (Hines 4) and 30%+ each of his 12 seasons. (seriously he caught 3 TD's in a year Oakland threw for a total of 7)
The amazing thing is that Hines isn't far behind Moss in % of team yards. Moss was a dominant TD scorer, but his percentage of his team yards hovers about where Owens does, but he didn't maintain it as long.
The first two contemporaries of Hines are pretty much Hall of Fame locks. Moss and Owens should get in on their first try, but there is the chance that they will have to wait because they have a lot of negative feelings about hem. We will see what the voters do.
Just for a little example, look at these seasons chosen from the above WR's as raw stats.
A: 95 rec. 1163 yards, 10 TDs
B: 93 rec. 1412 yards, 16 TDs
C: 98 rec. 1493 yards, 23 TDs
In raw stats, they look more impressive as you move down the list. Now let's look at them as a percentage of team offense:
A: 31% rec. 35.2% yards, 52.6% TDs
B: 29.2% rec. 41% yards, 50% TDs
C: 24.3% rec. 31.6% yards, 46% TDs
As a percentage of team passing the story changes. Randy Moss's 2007 campaign is pretty much the best example I could give of raw stats not matching up with percentages, because of how dominant that offense was. Hines Ward's 2003 campaign look paltry compared to it in raw stats, but Hines' was a bigger part of our passing offense in 2003 than Moss was to the Patriots in 2007.
Now obviously Moss was a big part of the reason that offense accumulated such ridiculous numbers, not only through his own production but the match up difficulty he forced on the field. Percentages will never account for a receiver getting other players open by shifting coverage to himself. Like I said it isn't a super end all number to determine a players value. It is however good to look at the context and see that a player's stats depend on the offense that they are in, and have an actual number to assign their value to their offense in any given year.
In the second part (whenever I get time for that) I will look at some more potential Hall of Famers from Hines era and see how Hines measures up to guys who aren't Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. It may take a while as my wife is 8 1/2 months pregnant and things are a bit hectic right now.