Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Christian Ponder


Like pretty much every Vikings fan across the country, when the Vikings selected Christian Ponder my immediate reaction was anger. The team had just reached for a quarterback that had gotten little to no buzz over the last month, and to make matters worse they passed on arguably a top 5 talent in Nick Fairley, who would have filled a fairly important need at defensive tackle.

Undoubtedly, though, if Ponder develops into a good quarterback, Vikings fans will forgive the front-office for passing on Fairley. Will he develop into one? I'm not sure, but he has a lot of weapons in Harvin, AP, Rudolph, Shiancoe and hopefully Sidney Rice, that should help make the transition from Florida State to the NFL at least a little easier.

If I had ranked the top 8 quarterbacks before the draft, it would have been Newton, Mallett, Gabbert, Ponder, Kaepernick, Locker, Dalton, Stanzi in that order. I've been extremely high on Mallett for a while, but ultimately Ponder projects to have a better arm than Dalton and Stanzi, and Locker's accuracy concerns are a huge red flag in my opinion.

So, ultimately, I've spent too much time trying to talk myself into why the Vikings took Ponder. I still think the team should have taken Fairley, but the fact is the Vikings got who they felt was the best fit for their team, and there's little doubt that Ponder is likely the most NFL ready of the quarterbacks in this draft. He played in an offense at Florida State that is at least similar to what the Vikings plan to run this year, and while it is a steep learning curve for any rookie quarterback, Ponder is extremely bright. The lockout continuing isn't good news for a team hoping to teach a rookie quarterback a new offense, so hopefully the new CBA gets figured out sooner rather than later.

I am very impressed with Ponder's completion percentages at Florida State. Yes, he played in a west coast offense that should result in a solid completion percentage, but he completed over 68% of his passes as a junior and then almost 62% of his passes as a senior despite playing through multiple injuries. He's a tough kid, which is important, because he's been fairly injury prone over the last few years. Hopefully that trend will stop in the NFL, much like it has (knock on wood) with Adrian Peterson.

Whenever I criticize Jake Locker's accuracy, his defenders always point out that he played with very little talent at Washington, especially at wide receiver. They are correct, Locker did play with poor talent at Washington. However, accurate quarterbacks put up good completion percentages regardless of the wide receiver talent. Ponder is impressive in this area because he has not played with an NFL-type talent at receiver in either year he started, yet his completion percentage as a junior was spectacular and playing hurt as a senior his completion percentage was still very good.

Here are two different quarterbacks senior seasons:

Quarterback A: 184/299 (61.4%) 2,044 yards 20 TD 8 INT in 11 games
Quarterback B: 214/341 (62.8%) 2,586 yards 20 TD 6 INT in 12 games

Quarterback A is obviously Ponder. He averaged less than 200 yards a game, which is definitely worrisome, but yards and touchdowns are greatly effected by the talent level around a quarterback. Completion percentage is not; most college level receivers will catch a ball that is thrown where it needs to be. It's the running after the catch and ability to make spectacular catches that create opportunities to rack up gaudy touchdown and yard totals. Of course, averaging less than 200 yards a game also suggests Ponder was making a lot of short throws, so his completion percentage was probably inflated by that as well. But the Vikings are likely going to continue a west coast type offense, and by drafting Kyle Rudolph in the second round they should be expected to use a lot of two tight end sets. That suggests they won't be stretching the field consistently, so Ponder's accuracy on short to medium distance routes is much more important than his ability to throw the ball deep.

Quarterback B is Tom Brady. Both Brady and Ponder were considered "leaders" out of college, although that seems impossible to actually quantify. Neither put up amazing numbers, but played multiple years and battled adversity each year. Both had good accuracy but not the greatest arms, although certainly capable of making most NFL throws. The biggest knock on Brady was that he probably didn't have the velocity to make all the throws, notably the deep out. Obviously he's managed to make that throw just fine. Ponder's arm strength is considered good, but not great. We'll see. Obviously I don't think Ponder will be Tom Brady, because Brady improved a lot after getting drafted, but I make the comparison because not every franchise quarterback has Andrew Luck's talent on draft day.

Regardless of how upset most of us Vikings fan were, hopefully Ponder can become the team's franchise quarterback, and in a few years Vikings fans are no longer upset about the team passing on Nick Fairley or Robert Quinn for Ponder. Either way, the team made a bold move taking the player they felt was a franchise QB at #12. If it works out, nobody will care that the Vikings reached. If not, Frazier will be out of a job, and the Vikings will be drafting yet another quarterback, likely much higher than 12th. For now, let's let the kid show what he can do. Maybe he'll prove all the doubters wrong.