A few months ago, I read a post on Pro Football Reference.com’s Blog that analyzed what Marvin Harrison’s career would have looked like if he didn’t have Peyton Manning as his QB. That reminded me of a question that I’ve heard asked about Hines Ward: Since he’s always played on a run first team, what kind of numbers would he have if he were on a more pass happy team? Of course, as with the Harrison analysis, there is really no way of knowing. But, I thought it would be entertaining to complete a simple calculation to get an idea of how many catches and receiving yards he might have if given more opportunities to catch the ball.
The idea behind this analysis is that I wanted to have a way to calculate how many receptions and receiving yards that Hines would have if he had played on the “Average NFL Passing Team,” the “Top NFL Passing Team,” and the Indianapolis Colts. My thinking was that if I performed these calculations for 3 different scenarios, that would give a better idea of what Hines’s statistics might have actually looked like if he were on a team that averaged in the top half or top ten in passing yards throughout his career. It would give a sort of range that we could say with some confidence that his numbers would fall within. So, in my thinking, the numbers for the “Average NFL Passing Team” would be the bottom of the range, while the numbers for the “Top NFL Passing Team” would be the top of the range.
To complete this analysis, I pulled the following data from Pro-Football-Reference.com for the years of Hines Ward’s career:
- Steelers’ Pass Attempts each year
- Steelers’ Passing Yards each year
- NFL League Average Pass Attempts each year
- NFL League Average Passing Yards each year
- Pass Attempts each year for that year’s leader in passing yards
- Passing Yards each year for that year’s leader in passing yards
- Pass Attempts each year for the Indianapolis Colts
- Passing Yards each year for the Indianapolis Colts.
- Hines Ward’s receptions and receiving yards for each year
The team data is shown in the following table. Ward’s data is shown in the next one.
|Steelers’ Passing compared to NFL sorted by Passing Yards|
|Year||Pit Att||Pit Yards||NFLAvg Att||NFLAvg Yards||NFLTop Att||NFLTop Yards||Indy Att||Indy Yards|
Using Hines Ward’s yearly statistics, I determined what percentage of Steelers’ passes and passing yards he accounted for. That data is shown in the table below.
|Ward’s Percentage of Pittsburgh’s Passes, Passing Yards|
|Year||Ward Rec||Ward Yds||Pit Att||Pit Yards||Ward % Att Rec||Ward % Yards|
For my analysis, I decided to see how many receptions and receiving yards Hines would have if he accounted for the same percentage on the “Average NFL Passing Team” and “Top NFL Passing Team.” I used the League average because there were only 3 years in Hines’s career that the Steelers were above the league average in pass attempts and passing yards: 2002, 2003, and 2006. Again, I also included the numbers for whatever team had the most passing yards each year to give a top end range. In each case, I multiplied Hines’s percentage contribution for the Steelers times the number of attempts and passing yards for “Average” and “Top” teams for each year. Both of these data sets are shown in the tables below.
|Ward’s Numbers on the “Average NFL Passing Team”|
|Year||Ward % Att Rec||Ward % Yards||NFL Avg Att||NFL Avg Yards||Ward Rec NFL Avg||Ward Yds NFL Avg|
|Ward’s Numbers on the “Top NFL Passing Team”|
|Year||Ward % Att Rec||Ward % Yards||NFL Top Att||NFL Top Yards||Ward Rec NFL Top||Ward Yds NFL Top|
Because the team that lead the league in passing yards was different for most years, I wanted to see what the numbers would look like if I used a single team that is generally seen as a passing team for the past decade: the Indianapolis Colts. The results of my calculations for the Colts are shown in the table below.
|Ward’s Numbers on the Indianapolis Colts|
|Year||Ward % Att Rec||Ward % Yards||Indy Att||Indy Yards||Ward Rec Indy||Ward Yds Indy|
Based on these calculations, if Hines Ward were just on an average passing team throughout his career, he would have had 2 more 100+ reception years and 1 more 1000+ yard receiving season. He would have 94 more catches and over 600 more yards in his career. This would put him in the top ten in career receptions, but still about 3000 yards shy of the top 10 in yardage.
If Hines had played for the top passing team in the league each year (obviously a highlyimprobable suggestion), he would have had nine 1000+ yard seasons and four 1500+ yard seasons. He would have had six 100+ reception season and two 120+ reception season. For his career, he’d have had 1000 catches and over 14000 yards. With these numbers, he’d be a lock as a first ballot HOFer.
Finally, if Hines had played his entire career with the Colts and he had accounted the same percentage of pass attempts and yardage as he did for the Steelers, he would have had eight 1000+ yard seasons and one 1500+ yard season, with over 1700 yards. And, he would have had four 100+ reception seasons and one where he reached 120 receptions. He would have over 950 catches and over 13000 yards in his career based on this scenario.
The biggest issue that I see with my calculation is that there is really no way to know what percentage of a teams passing Hines would account for. I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Hines would account for approximately the same percentages on the “Average NFL Passing Team.” So, I feel pretty comfortable with his numbers in that portion of the analysis. However, it becomes less easy to predict what percentage Hines would account for on the “Top NFL Passing Team” or the Colts. So, to give an idea of whether his Steeler percentages would make sense, I looked at Reggie Wayne’s percentage contribution to the Colts. My reasoning is that if Ward had played for the Colts his entire career, he would likely have been the number 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison. Wayne’s percentages are shown below.
Although Wayne came into the league three years after Ward, I think we have enough data to make a valid comparison. We see that Wayne had a similar increase in contribution from year 1 to years 2 and 3 as Ward. When comparing these with the percentages that Hines accounted for with the Steelers, though, Hines generally accounts for a higher percentage than Wayne. Most likely, this is because the Colts have more weapons for Peyton Manning to choose from than the Steelers have generally had over Hines’s career.
One more piece of data, before I get into the conclusion. After finishing about 2/3 of this post, I realized that I hadn’t analyzed Ward’s TDs. In the interest of space, I am not going to post the tables for TDs, but I followed the same calculation as above. I calculated what percentage of Steelers passing TDs Ward accounted for, and I multiplied that percentage by the average number of TDs for each year, the number of TDs for the top passing team in terms of yardage for that year, and the number of TDs for the Colts. Based on these calculations, Hines’s current TD total would be:
- Average Team – 73
- Top Team – 115
- Colts – 106
If any of you want to see these tables, let me know, and I’ll throw them into another post real quick.
Having reviewed these numbers, here is my conclusion. I think it’s pretty clear that Hines would have more receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs than he currently has if he were on a more pass happy team. However, it would have depended on the team as to whether he was a number 1 or number 2 receiver on the team. I think it is also unlikely that he would have been the number one receiver on the Colts or the Rams in the late 90′s and early 00′s. However, he may have been the top receiver on the Chiefs of early 00′s or the Saints in recent years. However, in either case, when a team relies heavily on the pass, and has great success doing so, they tend to add receiving weapons for their QB, a la the 49ers of the late 80′s or Colts of the 00′s. So, on a team like that, Hines percentage contribution would likely be lower than with the Steelers.
Based on these factors, I would say that the probable ceiling in my analysis should be somewhere about halfway between the “Average NFL Passing Team” numbers and the numbers for the Colts. Of course, the offense would have passed more than the Steelers, and he probably would have had more passes his way. But, it’s unlikely that he would had as high of a percentage contribution as with the Steelers.
So, I’m going to say that Hines Ward’s career numbers with another team who passes more would be in the following ranges:
- 900 – 925 receptions
- 10,400 – 12,200 receiving yard
- 75 – 90 receiving TDs
Well, I know this was a bit of a fantasy type analysis, but I enjoyed thinking about it. Let me know what you thought about it.
Tags: Hines Ward