When he retires, Hines Ward will go down as one of the most, if not the most prolific wide receiver in Steelers History. And at age 33, he seems to only be getting better.
From a statistical and production standpoint, there's little argument that Ward will go down as the greatest. Yes, even greater than John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, legends of yore. Ward holds most of the Steelers' team records in receiving already:
- Receptions—Hines holds the top three receiving seasons in Steelers history: 2002—112 receptions; 2003—95 receptions; 2001—94 receptions
- Receiving Yards—Ward has the third highest receiving yard season in team history - 2002 - 1,329 yards
- Touchdowns—Ward is tied for first with two others for 12 TDs in a single season
- Yards: First place—10,220 yards (1,497 yards more than second place)
- Receptions—833 receptions (296 receptions more than second place)
- Touchdowns—73 TDs (10 more than second place)
Last season, Hines Ward suffered a knee injury during the playoffs that threatened to keep him out of Super Bowl XLIII. Hines vowed to play in the game, and utilized a hyperbaric (compression) chamber to accelerate healing of the knee. Despite doubts, Ward was ready to play in Super Bowl XLIII.
The way Hines is playing this season, I suspect he may have spent the entire offseason in the chamber. Hines is having one of his best seasons of his career so far. In five games, Ward has 33 receptions for 440 yards, one TD and 13.3 yards/reception. If Hines keeps up the pace, he'll be somewhere around 106 receptions (second all time in Steelers history) and 1408 yards (1st all time in Steelers history).
What is really encouraging are some of the stats we don't often pay attention to. At the moment, Hines is averaging 88 yards per game. His highest yards per game average came in 2002 when he averaged 83.1 yards per game for the season. His 13.3 yards per reception would be his fourth highest total of his career. Finally, he's catching 6.6 balls a game. Only in 2002 did he catch more (7.0 receptions/game).
Certainly Hines is benefiting from the Steelers new pass-oriented offense. The team is throwing the ball 57 percent of the time as compared to days of old where the pass/run ratio was 40/60.
The risk is clearly going to be Hines' health. No receiver in the NFL plays a more physical brand of football than Hines Ward. As such, he'll always be more at risk for a potential injury. To ask Hines to play any other way however would simply be sacrilegious.
If the stars line up, if his health remains, and if the Steelers continue to click on offense, we may just be witnessing a record-breaking season at WR in Pittsburgh.