As a wide receiver, Hines Ward was very good. As a blocker at the wide receiver position, Ward was the best and most dangerous in the history of the NFL. Figuring out how to balance those two things will be at the heart of the "Is Hines Ward a Hall of Famer?" debate five years from now. Let's get a jump on it.
More with Ward than most, the numbers are insufficient to make a judgment. If we're grading on statistics alone, Ward is probably a ticket buyer in Canton, not an enshrinee.
The contemporaries to whom Ward is most similar statistically (thanks to Pro Football Reference) are Derrick Mason, Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson. Fine players, but there's probably not a Hall of Famer in that bunch. There are two others with similar stats who do own pale yellow blazers ‒ Charley Taylor and Lance Alworth ‒ but it's fruitless to compare them to Ward, as the era was so different.
Which leaves a couple of other factors for Ward. What of the blocking? Is it a big enough factor to vault him into the Hall? What about the Super Bowl MVP? What about the fact that Ward was never among the best three or four receivers in the league?
I'm throwing out the Super Bowl MVP. I don't care about that. The biggest play Ward made in that game was on a gimmick play on which he was uncovered. It was an ugly game and they had to give the MVP to someone. If we're putting people in the Hall for winning the Super Bowl MVP, Dexter Jackson and Desmond Howard would like to have a word with someone.
The blocking is the thing. If you can be a top-10 receiver in the league and add so much to your team's running game, that's a difference maker. That's what separates Hines Ward from other guys with big numbers who are on the outside looking in. It's a perfectly legitimate argument. He added something to his team that other receivers just did not.
But even with his blocking exploits, at any time during Hines Ward's career did you ever look at him and think, "That guy's the best in the game"? Earlier in his career, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens or Randy Moss would've been taken before Ward. Later, it was guys like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson. The Hall of Fame is for the elite, right? Was Ward ever that?
It's going to be a really tough call when the time comes ‒ especially considering some of the receivers, like Cris Carter, who have been left out in the cold recently. Ultimately, though, I think Ward will get in ‒ not on the first ballot, but at some point. The guys who vote on this just adore things like "playing the game the way it's supposed to be played," and being "gritty" or "hard-nosed" or "old school." Ridiculous little clichés or not, they are kind of true of Ward, and things like that tend to excite voters. He'll be held up as an example of how the game was played before we put all the sissified new rules into it.
I believe he'll be in eventually, and I'll support the decision. If you're on the fence, pay attention over the next five years and let me know if you see any other receiver out there as good as Ward who also blocked like Ward.
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