What would Hines Ward’s numbers be if he played for an average passing team or a pass happy team?

Photo Credit: thestartingfive.files.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: thestartingfive.files.wordpress.com

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
1998 489 2552 516.3 3279.5 533 4328 576 3630
1999 535 2883 540.6 3396.4 530 4353 546 4066
2000 439 2518 526.5 3309.9 587 5232 571 4282
2001 454 3113 522 3292.9 551 4663 557 3989
2002 551 3832 540.4 3395.7 619 4475 591 4055
2003 532 3304 515.4 3207.1 569 4179 569 4179
2004 358 2720 511.1 3368.7 527 4623 527 4623
2005 379 2926 514.5 3255.3 670 4437 515 4096
2006 523 3733 512.2 3276.9 580 4503 557 4308
2007 442 3071 532.7 3428.8 586 4731 551 4033
2008 506 3301 516.4 3380.5 636 4977 585 4094

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
1998 15 246 489 2552 3.07% 9.64%
1999 61 638 535 2883 11.40% 22.13%
2000 48 672 439 2518 10.93% 26.69%
2001 94 1003 454 3113 20.70% 32.22%
2002 112 1329 551 3832 20.33% 34.68%
2003 95 1163 532 3304 17.86% 35.20%
2004 80 1004 358 2720 22.35% 36.91%
2005 69 975 379 2926 18.21% 33.32%
2006 74 975 523 3733 14.15% 26.12%
2007 71 732 442 3071 16.06% 23.84%
2008 81 1043 506 3301 16.01% 31.60%
Tot 800 9780 5208 33953 15.36% 28.80%

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
1998 3.07% 9.64% 516.3 3279.5 16 316
1999 11.40% 22.13% 540.6 3396.4 62 752
2000 10.93% 26.69% 526.5 3309.9 58 883
2001 20.70% 32.22% 522 3292.9 108 1061
2002 20.33% 34.68% 540.4 3395.7 110 1178
2003 17.86% 35.20% 515.4 3207.1 92 1129
2004 22.35% 36.91% 511.1 3368.7 114 1243
2005 18.21% 33.32% 514.5 3255.3 94 1085
2006 14.15% 26.12% 512.2 3276.9 72 856
2007 16.06% 23.84% 532.7 3428.8 86 817
2008 16.01% 31.60% 516.4 3380.5 83 1068
Tot 15.36% 28.80%     894 10388

 

  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
1998 3.07% 9.64% 533 4328 16 417
1999 11.40% 22.13% 530 4353 60 963
2000 10.93% 26.69% 587 5232 64 1396
2001 20.70% 32.22% 551 4663 114 1502
2002 20.33% 34.68% 619 4475 126 1552
2003 17.86% 35.20% 569 4179 102 1471
2004 22.35% 36.91% 527 4623 118 1706
2005 18.21% 33.32% 670 4437 122 1478
2006 14.15% 26.12% 580 4503 82 1176
2007 16.06% 23.84% 586 4731 94 1128
2008 16.01% 31.60% 636 4977 102 1573
Tot 15.36% 28.80%     1000 14363

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
1998 3.07% 9.64% 576 3630 18 350
1999 11.40% 22.13% 546 4066 62 900
2000 10.93% 26.69% 571 4282 62 1143
2001 20.70% 32.22% 557 3989 115 1285
2002 20.33% 34.68% 591 4055 120 1406
2003 17.86% 35.20% 569 4179 102 1471
2004 22.35% 36.91% 527 4623 118 1706
2005 18.21% 33.32% 515 4096 94 1365
2006 14.15% 26.12% 557 4308 79 1125
2007 16.06% 23.84% 551 4033 89 961
2008 16.01% 31.60% 585 4094 94 1294
Tot 15.36% 28.80%     952 13006

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.

Wayne’s Percentages
Year Att Yds TD
2001 4.85% 8.65% 0.00%
2002 8.29% 17.66% 14.81%
2003 11.95% 20.05% 24.14%
2004 14.61% 26.17% 23.53%
2005 16.12% 25.76% 16.13%
2006* 15.44% 30.41% 29.03%
2007* 18.87% 37.44% 31.25%
2008* 14.02% 27.97% 22.22%
Career 12.94% 24.36% 20.78%

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.

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4 Responses to “What would Hines Ward’s numbers be if he played for an average passing team or a pass happy team?”

  1. Geoffrey B Says:

    It’s hard to know how good Ward would be lined up with other great WR’s. However the same could be said of Marvin Harrison. I think both would still warrant a lot of looks.

    Ward is a great route runner who does an incredible job of getting his body in between defenders and the ball. There are many times he looks covered and the defender has no chance to break up the play. During his prime he was also top notch at catching balls away from his body and very dangerous after the catch.

    In Seattle or San Diego for most of his career he would have been far and above better than their receivers, on the Patriots with Brady he would have been sick too. He put up numbers with Tommy Maddox and Kordel Stewart, it wasn’t just the low pass counts keeping him down, he had QB’s that couldn’t throw very good at all.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Good points. I hadn’t thought about those two teams. Maybe his ceiling is slightly higher than I was thinking.

  2. JC Says:

    And Ward would have had a 50% dropoff in Super Bowl rings playing with the Colts.

  3. Rekovca Says:

    Rekovca…

    [...]What would Hines Ward’s numbers be if he played for an average passing team or a pass happy team? « Checking the Numbers[...]…

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