Faceoff: Hines Ward
Jeff Tefertiller: Hines Ward has been the best wide receiver value play over the past couple of seasons. This continues in 2010. He has an ADP of WR23 with the 6.02 pick. This is a great spot to select a player who has a pattern of proven production. Ward has finished the last two seasons as the 16th and 15th best wide receiver, respectively. As this were not enough, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded the emerging Santonio Holmes in the offseason, potentially increasing Ward's 2010 role AND fantasy numbers.
There are a few reasons to be excited about Ward this season. As stated above, Holmes is now a Jet. He was Ben Roethlisberger's leading target last year. Gone are a whopping 138 pass targets which have to go somewhere. Pittsburgh, along with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, wants a strong passing attack. There is not enough confidence in Rashard Mendenhall (and the Steelers offensive line) to transform the offense into a run-oriented, pound the ball, offense. The success of the team will continue to rely on the right arm of Roethlisberger. The defense is not what it once was, and will not allow the team to play smash-mouth on that side of the ball. Also helping Ward's cause is that he is the lone veteran viable pass receiver on the team. Second-year player Mike Wallace will line up on the other side. And, it is entirely possibly that rookie Emmanuel Sanders starts in the slot. This means that Roethlisberger has to depend on the wily veteran. Ward is a steal in fantasy drafts. He has vastly outperformed this current ADP the past two seasons AND gets a bump in situation.
Fantasy owners have overly discounted Ward because of the Ben Roethlisberger four-game suspension. Byron Leftwich looked for Ward in the games Roethlisberger missed in 2008. He will target the reliable pass catcher often enough not to impact Ward's chances of finishing well within the Top 20 once again.
The only thing which might keep Ward away from another Top 20 finish is an injury. Since there is no way to predict injury, we will assume the durable and hard-nosed Ward will play most all of the 2010 season. He is a steady fantasy WR2 in the sixth round. What more can you ask?
Jeff Pasquino: The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to struggle on offense this season. Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for a minimum of four games, which will put a major crimp in the passing attack. Byron Leftwich (or Dennis Dixon) will be under center for all of September and possibly longer, which will greatly limit the upside of all the Steelers targets. Pittsburgh will be aware of this limitation and try and run the ball as much as they can, using Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore and rookie Jonathan Dwyer. That is all well and good but it does rather little for wide receiver values.
So let's fast forward to October and beyond. Hines Ward is no longer the "1B" receiver to Santonio Holmes' "1A" from last season. Holmes is now a New York Jet, which promotes Mike Wallace up to starter level for 2010. That sounds like a solid idea, but Wallace excelled mostly off of the bench to go deep in three wide receiver sets. Now that he must face a starting cornerback every down and help the team to create offense (not just running deep routes) the challenges go up. Defenses will know this and move their best corner towards Hines Ward - another reason that Ward will see diminished numbers this year.
The other reasons to be wary of Ward are more obvious, starting with the veteran's age. Ward is 34 years old now and has a long history of aches and pains. Life will be catching up with Mr. Ward soon as his career starts to draw to a close. To ask him to step up and be the clear top wide receiver on a team that lacks an accomplished deep threat and that will be missing their starting quarterback for a month seems like a tall order.